Sunday, December 10, 2017

George Washington's Diamond Eagle, 1784

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Susan reporting,

George Washington - commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolution and the first President of the United States - was the most painted American of the 18thc. In all those many portraits, he is shown either in his general's uniform of buff and blue, or in civilian clothes, often a black suit. Compared to his counterparts in Europe, his dress is sober, even severe, as was fitting for a near-legendary citizen-soldier, the leader of a new republic.

However, in the case of this remarkable jewel-encrusted medal - which doesn't appear in any of those portraits of Washington - the general made an exception.

After the end of the war, officers of the Continental Army and their French counterparts who had served together formed the Society of Cincinnati. The mission of the Society was to preserve the memory of the war for future generations, and to maintain an appreciation for the achievement of American independence.

The golden eagle that became the Society's insignia was designed by Pierre Charles L'Enfant, the French-born military engineer who served in the Revolution and, in time, became the master planner of Washington, DC. When L'Enfant returned to France to have the Eagle made by the Parisian goldsmiths, officers of the French Navy commissioned a more impressive, jeweled version as a surprise for Washington - the Diamond Eagle shown here. L'Enfant carried the medal back to America with him in 1784, and presented it to Washington on behalf of the French officers at the first general meeting of the Society of Cincinnati in Philadelphia in May, 1784.

Washington seemed to have reserved the Diamond Eagle for the most formal occasions. As President General of the Society of Cincinnati, he likely wore it for the Society's special events, and also for his own annual birthday ball. Featuring emeralds, rubies, and 160 diamonds from India and Brazil and a total diamond weight of 9 cts., the medal also includes scenes and mottoes related to the life of Cincinnatus, the self-sacrificing Roman statesman to whom Washington was often compared. The medal was unique in 18thc America, and was a stunning tribute to the man who wore it.

After Washington's death, his widow Martha Washington sent the Diamond Eagle to Alexander Hamilton, the newly-elected President General of the Society. Following Hamilton's death in 1804, his widow Elizabeth Hamilton (yes, the heroine of my historical novel I, ELIZA HAMILTON) sent the medal to the third President General, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. Pinckney in turn donated the Diamond Eagle to the Society in 1811, and it became the badge of office of the president general of the Society. The Society continues today as the oldest patriotic organization in America, and remains devoted to the principles and ideals of its founders.

Rarely exhibited publicly, the Diamond Eagle is currently on loan to the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia until March 3, 2018. It's especially fitting that the medal is displayed in the museum adjacent to Washington's War Tent, another powerful symbol of Washington's dedication to his troops and the Revolution.

See here for more information about viewing the Diamond Eagle at the MoAR.

Above: The Diamond Eagle, front and back, with its original leather case. The blue and white ribbon, symbolizing the continuing friendship between France and the United States, is a modern replacement. All photographs courtesy of the Society of Cincinnati.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Breakfast Links: Week of December 4, 2017

Saturday, December 9, 2017
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
Henrietta Duterte, the first black female funeral director, who used coffins to help people escape slavery.
• During World War One, patriotic knitters faced the perils of "knitter's face" and "knitting nerves."
Anne of Green Gables, patron saint of girls who ask too many questions.
Image: Shopping, 1787: Gallerie du Palais Royal, Paris.
• The true history of Pocahontas: romantic historical myths versus tragic reality.
• Frost fairs on the Thames.
• "I heard the bells on Christmas Day": how hope rose from despair for poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
• Now online: Horwood's Plan of the Cities of London, 1792-99, puts the city (even houses!) at your fingertips.
• The scandalous and formidable Lady Holland.
Image: Fine glass kohl pot from ancient Egypt retains its original applicator, much like modern mascara.
• The hidden history of mac and cheese.
• The politics of hair.
• Thousands of women pursued their own California dreams during World War Two.
Murder ballads, gender, and who deserves to die.
• The splendor of weddings during the Italian Renaissance.
Image: A 19thc letter written in cross-hatching to save postage and paper.
• Lace me up, Daddy: a brief glimpse into male corsetry.
• How Victorian women cleaned their fancy dresses.
• Was Lydia E. Pinkham the Queen of Quackery?
• The mysterious New Orleans chapel of prosthetic limbs.
• Image: Proof that none of us have risen to the modern challenge of serving pasta elegantly.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Friday, December 8, 2017

Friday Video: Making a Plum Pudding, c1775

Friday, December 8, 2017

Susan reporting,

Since we're officially in the holiday season now, it seems like the appropriate time to share a video on how to make a traditional plum, or hunter's - the same pudding goes by different names - pudding. This is one of many excellent 18thc cooking videos produced by Townsends, an American purveyor of all kinds of 18thc and 19thc necessities for re-enactors and anyone who relishes the past, from reproduction wool cloaks to hunting knives to research books to (as mentioned in this video) the proper kidney suet for puddings.

Here you'll learn not only how to make a proper Georgian-style pudding, but also the histories of many of the ingredients. Who knew 18thc raisins were so different from their modern day descendants?

If you've received this video via email, you may be seeing a black box or empty space where the video should be. Please click here to view the video.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The French Corset in A Duke in Shining Armor

Thursday, December 7, 2017
Phillipon, L'utile, marchande de corsets
Loretta reports:

Some time ago, Susan sent me the image you see, of a French corset seller with her wares, as an inspiration for the Dressmakers series I was working on. It looked perfect to me: not only the elegant 1830s corsets but the seller: her hair, her facial expression—that flirtatious glance. I kept it in view, especially when I was writing Leonie’s story, Vixen in Velvet, because she was the corset artiste of the trio.

However, I never wrote about the corset itself. At that time, I was focused on the seller, because my dressmakers were businesswomen.

But its moment came, in a flash of inspiration, when I was working on A Duke in Shining Armor, and had to get my heroine, Olympia, out of her wet clothes and into a fresh set of garments, right down to the underwear.

So far as I had been able to ascertain, ladies’ stays were white, as were all of their undergarments. The examples I’ve seen tend not to be especially sexy—except in the sense of being underwear in the 1800s and therefore sexy to the gentlemen—and not colorful. Maybe a little lace or embroidery would adorn, say, one’s chemise and petticoats, and pretty stitching, as in this example from the V&A online collection.

The undergarments I’d seen had all belonged to respectable women, though, including queens and aristocrats. Ordinary women were more likely to wear their clothes until they were not worth preserving.

Corset ca 1825-35
But what about the not-so-respectable women? What about the courtesans and others who had busy love lives? Expected to dress more dashingly and daringly, they might want to purchase less subdued styles, in colors or at least with colorful trim. This image told me that the Paris corset sellers were well able to oblige them.

As to why Olympia ends up in French underwear, or why she’s wet in the first place—it’s all in the book.

While the above image appears in several places, including my Pinterest board for A Duke in Shining Armor, I recommend you click on this link to the FIT blog and scroll down. You can enlarge it to an enormous size!

Images: L’utile, marchande de Corsets, Charles Phillipon 1830, courtesy Les Musêes de la ville de Paris

White corset, ca 1825-35 courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum online collections.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

What Did Alexander Hamilton Wear for His Wedding to Elizabeth Schuyler in 1780?

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Susan reporting, 

This post appeared earlier this fall on the blog that's connected to my web site, but since it was so popular there, I decided to share it here, too.

In early December 1780, Lt. Col, Alexander Hamilton finally received leave from his position as an aide-de-camp on Gen. Washington's staff, and headed north to Albany, NY to marry his fiancee Elizabeth Schuyler. It was his first leave away from the army since accepting the post in 1777. The young lieutenant colonel had performed his responsibilities so well that he'd become virtually indispensable to His Excellency, who only grudgingly granted the leave, and only for a few short weeks at that.

The wedding was small family affair, with the service taking in the parlor of The Pastures, the Schuyler family home overlooking the Hudson River. There are no surviving records of what either the bride or groom wore for the ceremony, or for the celebration that likely took place afterwards. The description of Eliza's gown that you'll find in my historical novel I, Eliza Hamilton is drawn from a suggestion for bridal dress for a fashionable winter wedding in a 1780 copy of The Lady's Magazine, the Georgian precursor of magazines like Vogue, and I also consulted with Janea Whitacre, the Mistress of the Mantua-Making Trade at Colonial Williamsburg.

In a letter that Alexander wrote to Eliza shortly before embarking for Albany, he asked if she'd prefer him to wear his uniform for their wedding, or civilian clothes. Alas, her reply is lost, so it's not known what decision she made for her groom. I'm guessing that she chose his military attire, given that it was a war-time wedding.

None of Alexander's uniforms from the Revolution are known to survive today. Uniforms from the war saw considerable hard wear, and only a handful from the entire Continental Army still exist. Among them is the uniform, above left, that was worn by another of Washington's aides-de-camp, and one of Alexander's close friends, Lt. Col. Tench Tilghman (1744-1786) of Maryland. As shown on a museum mannequin, the uniform is missing some key elements: a white linen shirt, gold officer's epaulettes, a sword and sword belt, boots, cocked hat, and the green ribbon sash worn by members of the general's staff. The portrait, above right, shows Gen. Washington himself, with the Marquis de Lafayette in the middle, and Lt. Col. Tilghman to the right, all in uniform.

Alexander's uniform at the time of the wedding was likely very similar. The miniature portrait by Charles Willson Peale of Alexander, below left, shows him in that uniform.

Now I have a totally unsubstantiated theory about this particular miniature: that Eliza may have seen it at some point during their courtship, and that perhaps Alexander even offered it to her, but that she rejected it for some reason - perhaps as not being worthy of her beloved. During the summer of 1780, he had another miniature painted at her request, showing him looking much more conventionally handsome and in civilian dress: see it here.

In any event, the epaulettes shown in the photo, lower right, did in fact belong to Alexander, and may well have been the same ones shown in the miniature portrait. Epaulettes were a relatively new feature of military dress in the 1770s, and were worn to make officers more visible to their men in battle. They were also considered to have less of the aristocratic baggage of the ribbons and sashes traditionally worn by British officers, and therefore were embraced by the Continental Army as being more democratic.

I saw Alexander's epaulettes on display this past summer at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, VA. Even though the gallery was in half-light to protect the artifacts (and make the photos fuzzy!), the gold bullion still glittered despite being more than two centuries old. Imagine how those golden epaulettes and rows of polished buttons must have sparkled on Alexander's coat in the sunny parlor during the wedding, and imagine, too, how wonderfully dazzled Eliza must have been by her groom. Ahh, the sartorial power of a man in uniform....

Above left: Uniform worn by Lt. Col. Tench Tilghman, c1777. 
Above right: Washington, Lafayette, and Tilghman at Yorktown, by Charles Willson Peale, 1784.          Both from the collections of the Maryland Historical Society; images from Maryland Historical Society.
Lower left: Miniature portrait of Lt. Col. Alexander Hamilton, by Charles Willson Peale,, 1777, Museum of the City of New York.
Lower right: Epaulettes Belong to Alexander Hamilton, c1777-1783, The Society of the Cincinnati. Photograph by Susan Holloway Scott.

Read more about Eliza Schuyler and Alexander Hamilton in my latest historical novel, I, Eliza Hamilton, now available everywhere.
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