18th century clothes, 18th century clothing, 19th century clothing, interpretation, John Brown House Museum, living history, Museums, Reenacting, Rhode Island, Rhode Island Historical Society, weekend, What Cheer Day, work
Where are you going this weekend? I’m going to Providence in 1800, along with my family and friends.
The mantua maker is coming, and writes a very pretty letter about the new fashions she has found for the young ladies.
Mrs Brown will be in, and receiving guests, and we hear that Mr Herreshoff will come to call as well. While he may decry the state of the roads, we expect him to have news of business conditions in New York, and his prospects for the future.
Miss Alice– Mrs Mason, now– will be at home with her sister, Miss Brown, and Mr Mason is living here now as well. I do not know how I shall keep their room in order, since he is hardly outside of it!
There are other visitors I expect as well; there is a man (I cannot call him a gentleman) who has been doing jobs for us, though he does not live here at the house. He seems extraordinarily interested in the house, and will not stay away. Whatever can be his interest? There may also be a tailor and his apprentice– though the apprentice tends to daydreaming, and looks above his station, studying Latin at all hours. I think he will not be long in his apprenticeship if he will not pay attention.
If you have not visited us before, you can find directions here.
Every morning, I sit at the table in the main room of our townhouse in the dark with my SAD light. To my right, I watch the sun rise over the fence, and every morning the orange-blue-pink-purple morning sky delights me. This hasn’t been the easiest year, but it has been bittersweet, cold and warm, like a winter sunrise. Lady Cat’s death was dreadful, and the last memory I have is ugly but goading. She fought so hard to stay alive, every single moment; remembering that, I am ashamed any time I verge towards the hopeless, and try instead to reach for the light.
So, despite the creeping feeling of hopelessness that lurks around the edges of something I want very much, I thought I would carry on with a partial fulfillment of desire. Three weeks ago, I more-or-less asked Drunk Tailor to marry me.* This was exciting, and pleasing, and generally felt like a good thing to finally express. The hopelessness creeps in because, after an unhappy afternoon and evening of calculations, the truth is we can not afford to marry until I land a job with health insurance benefits.** However, that doesn’t mean we can’t have a party of some kind at some date-and-place-to-be-named.
The sunrises make me think of fabrics and dresses, colors and textures. What began as an idea for a wedding dress has morphed into a party dress, which was easy enough because I never intended a “traditional” dress— unless we are talking about being in an enormous pile of Turkish Angora kittens, white floof isn’t for me.*** The sunrise colors appealed to me, and I ordered swatches from Silk Baron, planning on a dress-and-jacket combination.
I played with combinations for a while before settling on two groups. I’ve narrowed those down, I think, to cordovan silk velvet with winter sage taffeta. Cross your fingers there’ll be enough in stock when I can afford to order the fabrics! In the meantime, any Vogue pattern called “Average” is likely to create excitement in fitting and sewing– plus, a zipper! I haven’t set a zipper in years, so this project should have all the funs.
One way I thought I could cheer myself up and make the best of this intractable situation was to make this a blog-able, documented project. It’s outside my usual time zone but within my style preferences — you say bolero, I say Spencer– so why not make it a project I have to do? Pretty clothes can be a way to get joy out of disappointment, so from muslin to finished garment, let’s do this thing.****
*More-or-less because in the written proposal I made, I recognized that marriage might be a financial impossibility.
**This revelation capped a pretty awful seven day stretch that began with one day of excellent news, followed by multiple job rejections, frightening health insurance premium calculations, and the now-quarterly revelation that my workplace cannot afford to pay me for the hours I’ve already worked this month (and possibly not through the end of the year).
*** The best nap I ever had was in the back of a Subaru Outback, on a stack of bayonets. I dreamt I was in a pile of kittens. It was a warm spring afternoon (kittens) but I was getting poked by sharp things (bayonets, also, kittens).
**** Pending supplies. $212.50 for fabric is right out of my budget scheme at the moment– that’s a lot of chickens, cat chow, or half a health insurance premium, depending on the metric you prefer.
What Cheer! Wednesday: that’s today, with a preview of What Cheer Day itself as props are distributed through the house, the display cases open for viewing
and a talk and demonstration of early Federal-era fashion in Rhode Island at 2:30 today. Or not— since we have another program at 4:00. At least I found out before lunchtime.
It’s not the first time I’ve packed a day as full as possible– in fact, I know more is possible, because I’ve done it.
Yesterday, in addition to packing up a small household for use on Saturday, m’colleague and I dressed two mannequins– well, one and a half, since the mistress still needs some work. I don’t know how I forgot the second petticoat when it was right there on my list, but so it goes. Mannequin dressing will finish this morning for this afternoon’s free talk and demonstration.
Saturday, though: that’s the really exciting day, when Alice tries to sneak past her mother after staying out all night at a party. Julia Bowen may not be the good influence we thought she was, if her uncle is anything to judge by.
The fun starts at 1:00 PM and runs until 6:00, so we can take advantage of what we learned for After Dark. Extending the life of program research: is there anything better? Maybe a new Spencer, finally completed after more than a year. The weather promises to be chilly enough to make a Spencer necessary, not that I could resist flashing buttons anyway.
Once again, I begin to consider What Cheer Day, and, feeling uninspired, I turned to primary sources, thinking that reacquainting myself with the characters might prove useful. Among the documents I read today was this letter written by Carl F. Herrreshoff (late of Prussia, but now in New York) to Miss Sally Brown of Providence.
New York 17th June 1800
I hasten my dear Sally to answer three of your letters, two of which, one by Gideon and one by the mail, I received yesterday. I am glad to know you at your favourite place, and the more so as I am well convinced you will think of your absent friend on visiting those spots where we have been so happy. That moments like those should ever return, I thought it folly to hope until a few weeks since; a little lonely spot, where I would quietly reflect on what is past and love you with a pious resignation, was all I dare to wish for, but my love is too powerful for my reason, one beam of light was sufficient to give another turn to my imagination, and your last letter has compleated it. I begin already to see a chain of melancholy days in my solitude, I begin to think myself entitled to more happyness, what ever reason may say to the contrary; but taught by sad experience, like you my dear Sally, not to anticipate much happyness, I shall guard my heart from being to sanguine.One happyness I am not however determined to enjoy, let the consequences be what they will. I will see you, dear excellent girl, I will hear it confirmed from your lips that your heart is above the caprices of fortune, that it is as constant as my own. But though I feel now as much alacrity to obey your command as ever, it is not in my power to do it immediately. I have fixed to go to Philadelphia for a few days; I shall be as expeditious as possible, and on my return the first packet shall convey me to you. I rely on finding you at Point Pl. for I feel very averse to go to Providence. Ursus is in the same condition with your little mare, and I have sent him to the pasture, but I will try to get another horse.
Think of your promise: let me find you in good health and spirits; as for my own health, though never blooming, it is very strong, it have never been really affected from all my mind has suffered these ten months past, and since I have entertained the prospect of meeting you again, I feel as if there had been a great change in my fortune.
I lament that our pleasure will be chilled by the situation of poor A. Let us be ever so good we cannot escape our share of misery in the world, every one must have his turn.
As for your request regarding H I assure you, that if
I made a confident of him in matters which concerned you, it was of my own sentiments merely.
Adieu my charming little Sally, I expect a letter from you dated from Point Pl. forget not to direct all your letters in future to the care of John Murray & Son. Is Mr Coggeshall’s house still a tavern in Bristol? You shall soon hear again from
Your sincerest friend
I think it proper to write to your father before I go to Providence, are you not of the same opinion & if I should write from here, before I receive your answer, I shall enclose my letter in yours.
Carl Herreshoff to Sally Brown, 17 June 1800.
MSS 487, Herreshoff-Lewis Family Papers
RIHS Manuscripts Collection
A month after this letter was written, “poor A.” gave birth to her first daughter, Abby Brown Mason, a day after marrying James Brown Mason, the child’s father. It was not until 1801 that Sally Brown married Carl Herreshoff, despite her father’s misgivings. John Brown never really liked his sons-in-law, and given his nickname of “Old Thunder,” you have to wonder how they felt about him.
For me, this letter full of longing and acquiescence to a powerful love, has resonance beyond its years. Distance is easier to overcome today, to a degree, but letters remain a poor substitute for a lover.