Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Pre-Closet Era

Object: Corner Cupboard
Accession #: 1944.0002

This corner cupboard is an example of British and American furniture form of the 18th and 19th centuries and was intended for storage.  Constructed of walnut, it was probably produced in the Shenandoah Valley. It has a molded cornice above four shelves which are over a single paneled door. The whole cupboard rests on ogee bracket feet that have a vertical profile in the form of an S-curve, convex above and concave below. Cupboards first appeared in America in the 17th century and movable corner cupboards were in general use by the 18th century. The Randolphs may have used a piece of furniture like this one to keep their array of clothing folded and accessible. 
One historian explains that if a cupboard is 7.5 or 8 feet high it is probably a product of the South where rooms such as those at the Wilton House had high ceilings.  Cupboards with paneled doors were also a popular product of the South. The term cupboard began to be used in the Middle Ages and referred to the assembly of boards to be used as shelves to display cups, goblets, and similar items. Most were designed to use the upper part for display and the lower portion for storage. Featuring four shelves without enclosure and single door below them, this cupboard appears to be designed for these purposes as well. If the Randolphs kept their clothes in a cupboard such as this one they undoubtedly would have wanted to display the finery they owned. The Randolphs were a family of means who could afford to be fashionable, as anyone who saw what was put on those shelves would be reminded.

Corner Cupboard, 1750-1790, American: South, Virginia,
Walnut, Yellow Pine, Metropolitan Museum of Art
The elite spared no expense when it came to keeping up with the latest styles and best materials. As one historian describes the dress of a daughter of a typical Virginia planter in the 1770’s, she “could have worn at the same time a gown of silk from China, underclothing of linen from Holland, and footwear made in England – all shipped in a vast network of trade from their places of origin to a shop or warehouse in London, where they were selected by a merchant, [and] packed for a lengthy voyage across the ocean in a ship”. Much of what women wore could be purchased through import trade. Upper class men as well could afford to have their outfit custom-made in London to fit their exact measurements, specifications for expensive fabrics, and embellishments such as imported buttons. A cupboard like this one was a very useful piece of furniture used to store the many neatly folded and meticulously pressed articles of clothing owned by a wealthy family like the Randolphs.


Baumgarten, Linda. “Looking at Eighteenth Century Clothing”. Colonial Williamsburg. 7
October 2012.
Boyce, Charles. Dictionary of Furniture. Roundtable Press, Inc. New York: 1985.
Boger, Louise Ade. The Complete Guide to Furniture Styles. Charles Scribner’s Sons. New
York: 1969.
Comstock, Helen. American Furniture: Seveteenth, Eighteenth, and Nineteenth Century Styles.
The Viking Press. Inc. New York: 1962.
Ketchum Jr., William C. Chest, Cupboards, Desks and other pieces. Alfred A Knopf, Inc. New
York: 1982.
Obbard, John W. Early American Furniture: a guide to who, when, and where. Collector Books.
Paducah: 2006.

Image Credit*&deptids=1&what=Softwood%7cCupboards&pos=16-

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Punishment and The Pardon

Item: Document
Object #: 1901.8
During the American Revolution, two soldiers John La Brun and Christopher Fofsill, of Captain Read’s Troop of Virginia Light Dragoons, were “charged with Desertion and Carrying Harnesses, Arms, and Accoutrements belonging to said Troop.” A court martial was held at Albemarle Barracks on March 24, 1780, and was presided over by Colonel Francis Taylor.  This record of the court martial proceedings describes the fleeing soldiers and their capture, based on the testimony of two other troops in Read's Dragoons. The document is also signed by Colonel James Wood and at the bottom “In Council July 14, 1780” Thomas Jefferson states the remission of the above sentence on La Brune and signed his name. 

A court martial is a trial in a military court for members of the armed forces. The two soldiers on trial were part of Captain Read’s Troop of Virginia Light Dragoons. According to one historian, the Light Dragoons “were first raised in the middle of the Eighteenth Century for reconnaissance and patrolling - in other words scouting - but soon acquired a reputation for courage and dash in the charge.” The court martial of these two soldiers was held at Albemarle Barracks.

Albemarle Barracks was located just outside of Charlottesville, Virginia, where the Convention Army was imprisoned from 1779-1781.  Some 4,000 British regulars and German mercenaries (also known as “Hessians”), collectively called the Convention Army, captured at the Battle of Saratoga, in New York, arrived at Albemarle Barracks in January 1779.  They were marched from outside New York City to Cambridge, Massachussetts in 1777 before boarding ships for Virginia.  It took them nearly three months to get to their new home just west of Charlottesville. One historian describes the living conditions of the Barracks as “primitive huts spread out over several hundred acres” where the prisoners “endured great hardships.” Supplying and guarding the Convention Army drained the resources of local community and militia.  As a result, by February 1781, the last of the prisoners had been relocated. 

The record states that, based on the evidence, both soldiers were found guilty and sentenced accordingly.  The court was of the opinion that La Brun “Ought to suffer Death by being shot” and Fofsill “Ought to receive Corporal Punishment and do sentence him to run the Gauntlet through the troop of the Garrison twice a day for three Days.”  Fofsill’s sentence, running the guantlet, “was a form of punishment in which the culprit was made to run stripped to the waist between two rows of men who whipped and beat him as he passed by. These beatings were extremely severe and the victims often died as a result.”  To “run the gauntlet” was originally “to run the gantelope.”  Gantlope, being the Anglicized form of the Swedish word 'gatlop', or 'gatu-lop', which refers to the gate of soldiers that the victim had to pass through.

This account of the court martial was signed by Colonel James Wood.  In 1776, James Wood of Frederick County was appointed colonel in the Virginia military and was named superintendent of the prisoners of war held by the Virginia militia.  At the time of the court martial Thomas Jefferson was governor of Virginia.  Among his duties as governor was signing official documents and granting clemency to those convicted of crimes.  On July 14, 1780, Jefferson wrote to Col. Wood declaring, “Sir, I inclose you a remission of the sentence against La Brun...”  Jefferson's pardon, rescued La Brun from his death sentence.  Jefferson also remits "The above sentence of La Brun" at the bottom of the court martial record, before signing the document.  It is not yet know if La Brun ever received a punishment less severe than what previously delivered.
Thomas Jefferson visited the Randolphs of Wilton on more than one occasion, including a visit in May 1781.  Jefferson was a relation to the Randolph family, through his mother, Jane Randolph. The Randolphs of Wilton were well involved with the American Revolution. Peyton Randolph, son of William III, was commissioned as a Major in the militia in 1777 and, according to the family, was also an aide-de-camp to General Lafayette.  Peyton's patriotism was so strong that in 1775 Archibald Cary recounts an altercation between him and brother-in-law Lewis Burwell, in which Peyton is stabbed with a dinner knife. 


Alexander, Arthur J. “Desertion and its Punishment in Revolutionary Virginia”. The William and
Mary Quarterly. Third Series, Vol. 3, No. 3 (Jul., 1946), pp. 383-397. Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture. <>
Martin, Gary. “Running the Gauntlet”. The Phrase Finder. 13 September 2012.
Maurer, David. “New Marker commemorates Revolutionary POW march”. The Daily Progress
Online. May 6, 2012. 13 September 2012.
“Court Martial”. 13 September 2012.
“Charlottsville, Va.”The Journey through Hallowed Ground: Monticello to Gettysburg. 13
September 2012. <
“Albemarle Barracks Burial Site”. The Historical Marker Database. 13 September
2012. <>
“Convention Army The Barracks”. The Historical Marker Database. 13 September
2012. <>
“Watch Albemarle Barracks Video” OvGuide: Your Online Video Guide. 13 September 2012.
 “Colonel James Wood II”. Colonel James Wood II Chapter of the Virginia Society  Sons of the
American Revolution. 13 September 2012. <>
 “Finding Aid for Thomas Jefferson Collection, 1780-1881”. William L Clements Library. 20
September 2012. <>
“Using Virginia Governors’ Records, 1776-1998”. Library of Virginia. 20 September 2012.
The Papers of Thomas Jefferson Digital Edition, Main Series, Volume 3 (18 June 1779–30
September 1780) ed. Barbara B. Oberg and J. Jefferson Looney. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, Rotunda, 2008. < [accessed 20 Sep 2012]>
“History”. Light Dragoons Regimental Association. 21 September 2012.

Image Credit

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Print of the Washington Family

Object: Mezzotint
Accession #: 1984.0076

According to one historian, “a mezzotint is a distinctive tonal print made using a copper plate that is worked or ‘grounded’ using a semi-circular fine-toothed hand tool known as a ‘rocker’ so that the entire surface is roughened by tiny pits.”  The plate can then be covered with ink before being pressed against paper to produce a print.  According to the dictionary, a mezzotint is the method referred to as well as the print produced from such a plate. 

This mezzotint, one of two in Wilton's collection, was made from an engraving by John Sartain in 1840 which he based on a painting by Edward Savage completed in “Philadelphia in the year 1796."  Under the proper right corner of the print is: “Painted by Edward Savage," in the center “Published by Wm. Smith 3rd St. Philadelphia,” and under the proper left corner of the print: “Engraved by J. Sartain.” Underneath the print are the names of those depicted in painting, from the viewer’s left to right: George Washington Parke Custis, General George Washington, Eleanor Parke Custis, Martha Washington, and William Lee. The print depicts Washington as he sits at a table with his right arm resting on the shoulder of George Washington Parke Custis, who stands behind him. Across the table, on which is a map, sits Mrs. Washington pointing a folded fan to part of the map. Standing to her right is Eleanor Parke Custis. Standing behind Mrs. Washington is “Billy Lee, who was Washington’s body servant throughout the war” and “in the background is the noble aspect of the Potomac River as seen from Mt. Vernon.”   The mezzotint is lacking in a detailed view of the Potomac River, as is the case with the print from which it was produced.

Not much is known about the early career of Edward Savage. By 1785, he was painting in Boston and several years later worked in New York. He traveled to London in 1791 where he published copies of his engravings and portraits including one of George Washington. One historian explains that Savage, “was not a gifted artist, nor was he, so far as one may judge, an agreeable man” and that other artists “had nothing good to say of him or of his abilities.”  However, this same historian goes on to say that “he gave us an image that has been part of our national memory for two hundred years.” 

John Sartain was born in London in 1808 and began as an apprentice to John Swaine in 1823, from whom he learned heraldry and letter engraving.  In 1830, after marrying John Swaine’s daughter he moved to Philadelphia, Pennslvania.  From there, he produced engravings for Graham’s Magazine in 1841.  Eight years later, Sartain started publishing his own magazine, Sartain’s Union Magazine of Literature and Art.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Edgar Alan Poe were among some of its notable contributors. 

Savage had been commissioned by Harvard College to paint a portrait of Washington from life while the president was in New York and in the winter of 1789-90 he painted George and Martha Washington.  Savage’s grandson, “supposes that he [Savage] used these portraits of George and Martha Washington for the family group [painting].”  The engraving of the Washington family was done by Sartain from a lithograph of the work by Savage and not from the actual painting.  Details in Savage’s work are not included in Sartain’s engraving, which a journalist for the New York Times, writing in 1892 about the works by the two, states, “prove that Sartain must have worked without the aid of painting or engraving.” 

Original painting by Edward Savage
George Washington had become a national icon following the American Revolution.  After he was elected president, Washington’s face became “a recognized symbol of victory and liberty.”  According to the last will and testament of William Randolph IV, of Wilton, a "print of the Washington family" is listed under the inventory.  The Randolphs may have purchased a print containing Washington to show their admiration for the then deceased president who had once visited their home. 

Frank, Robin Jaffee. Love and Loss: American Portrait and Mourning Miniatures. Yale
University Press. New Haven, 2000.
Richardson, Edgar P. American Paintings and Related Pictures in the Henry Francis Dupont
Museum. University Press of VA. Charlottsville, 1986.
“Washington and his Family”. New York Times Online Archives. December 30, 1892. 24
“Overview of Collection”. The Winterthur Library. 24 August 2012
“Mezzotint”. 24 August 2012.
“The Mezzotint”. Warnock Fine Arts. 24 August 2012.
“The Early Mezzotint” The National Gallery. 24 August 2012.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

To The Greatest Perfection

Object:  Flute
Accession #: 2005.56

Thomas Stanesby Jr. learned the trade of making musical instruments at his father's workshop. This is where Stanesby Jr.’s career took off and led to him becoming an independent maker of all types of woodwinds: recorders, flutes, oboes, and bassoons. Contra-bassoons were made by him for use in the London performance of Handel’s Water Music. Stanesby inherited a seal ring and his father’s tools in 1734 and continued to be active in the industry until his death in 1754. His trade card boasted:

Stanesby Jun. In the Temple Exchange Fleet Street, London. Makes to the greatest Perfection, all sorts of musical instruments. In Ivory or fine wood; Plain, after a very neat manner or curiously Adorn 'd with Gold, Silver, Ivory &c. Necessary to preserve them; approv'd and recommended by the best masters in Europe. Sold as above and no where else."

That his musical instruments were made “to the greatest perfection” is attested by this late eighteenth century Baroque flute done by Stanesby which can be found in the collection at Wilton. It is made of wood and has ivory rings along with metal keys. It is marked “Stanesby, Jr.” and was determined to be an authentic eighteenth-century flute by Weschler and Sons, Inc. of Washington, D.C. The Randolph family entertained guests in their parlor with music as well as in the lower passageway. The musicians might have played their instruments, one of which could have easily been a flute, on the landing of the stairs as the Randolph family and their guests danced the night away down below.

                                     La Barre and Other Musicians, c. 1710, AndrĂ© Bouys

The flute is the oldest woodwind instrument and dates back to the 9th century B.C. Most historians agree that the instrument originated in Central Asia. Baroque flutes of the 1600s were originally built in 3 sections, had seven tone holes plus a key hole for the little finger.  Its shape has changed based on its air column’s shape.  One historian explains that the “bore [air column] of the baroque flute was modified to a slightly tapered conical shape with the large radius at the embouchure hole [mouth piece] and the smaller radius at the bell end.”  During the 18th century, the flute experienced even more modifications. One historian describes instruments during this time as being “often highly ornamental, sophisticated craftsmanship being applied to the thickenings left in wood or ivory to strengthen the sockets.”  Improvement of the flute was being strived for during the eighteenth century because it was not producing tones correctly.

However, the weaknesses of the flute did not affect its popularity during the eighteenth century. As one historian stresses, “some of the forked sounds were dull and out of tune seems to have been philosophically accepted as a natural weakness of the instrument which it was the player’s duty to conceal by skilful manipulation.” Perhaps the flautists, who the Randolph’s might have had the pleasure of listening to, were able to do just that as the piercing notes of their music wafted out through the open windows into the night air.

If you have a musical appreciation like the Randolph’s be sure to check out the flute on your next visit.  And look out for more information about our free summer concerts series, Jammin' on the James, where you and the family can enjoy music, games, crafts, face-painting, and tours of the historic house. See our website or follow us on Facebook for details on all of our upcoming events.


Bate, Philip. The Flute: A Study of its History, Development and Construction. W.W. Norton &

            Company, Inc. New York, 1969.

Toff, Nancy. The Development of the Modern Flute. Taplinger Publishing Company. New York,
“Baroque Flutes: Thomas Stanesby, Jr”. Boaz Berney Historical Flutes.  18 July 2012.      
“Flute”. 18 July 2012. < >
“Stanesby Family. 18 July 2012. <>.
“Intonation”. . 31 July 2012.

Image Credit

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Vote For Spotswood!

Thank you to everyone who has been keeping up with WIlton's Found in the Collection blog.  One of the objects featured in a post last year is a portion of a waistcoat belonging to Lt. Governor Alexander Spotswood.  This waistcoat has been nomination for the Virginia Association of Museums' Virginia's Top 10 Endangered Artifacts program.

Virginia's Top 10 Endangered Artifacts program raises public awareness about care of collections throughout Virginia, D.C., and beyond. Virginia's Top 10 is not a grant-giving program. It is designed to give museums, libraries, and archives an opportunity to raise media and public awareness about the ongoing & expensive care of collections, and collections care needs.Virginia's Top 10 Endangered Artifacts' nominees have the opportunity to promote their nomination during the public voting portion of this project. Once the public votes are tallied, our independent peer review panel will select the Top 10 winners. While public voting doesn't determine the Top 10, it will be taken into consideration by the panel - and those impressive voting numbers are great for museums to use when courting donors or applying for conservation grants!

Please take a minute to vote for the Spotswood waistcoat at Wilton.  Go to and click "Vote Now for the 2012 Nominees."  And remember, you can vote as often as you like, between now and August 29th.  Vote now!  Vote often!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

There's Something in the Air

Object: Barometer, c. 1810
Accession #: 1992.0009

One historian states that in the 18th century,“it was becoming fashionable among upper-class households to own one of these useful instruments.” Wilton's barometer is an English (London) cistern type barometer by W & T Gilbert and Company with silver plate under a glazed window, ivory knob underglaze-which adjusts the vernier scale-- and swan’s neck pediment with brass mounts. The barometer also has a thermometer mounted on the front of the mahogany veneered case. 

Barometers, invented by Evangelista Torricelli in 1643, are instruments used to measure atmospheric pressure. The word barometer comes from the Greek words meaning weight and measure. A glass tube from which the air was removed is put in a dish of mercury. Mercury is used in barometers because, “its weight made it possible to use a reasonably short tube.” As the air pressure increases it pushes down the mercury forcing it up the glass tube and when air pressure decreases the mercury is lowered back into the base. Air pressure is measured in “inches of mercury”or millibars (mb). 

Air pressure is the force exerted by tiny particles of air. In the 17th century it was observed that there was a connection between the changes in the weight of air and those of the weather. As one source adequately puts it, “If a high pressure system is on its way,often you can expect cooler temperatures and clear skies. If a low pressure system is coming, then look for warmer weather, storms and rain.” Wind blows between areas of high and low pressure. Mr. Randolph might have owned a barometer as it would have proved useful for him and his livelihood of growing and selling tobacco from the plantation, which was contingent on the activity of the weather.

Many early barometers were made to fit the individual taste of those buying them. In  the latter part of the 17th century and into the early 18th century barometers were constructed and sold by cabinet-makers, clock-makers, instrument-makers, and opticians. However, one historian attests that “as the nineteenth century wore on the quality of domestic barometers declined; and the death of inventiveness led to stereotyped designs in which only superficial variations were made.” Therefore, the year of this barometer can be placed by its design.  Some characteristic designs in use in 1810, which are included in this cistern-tube barometer, are the mahogany frame, scroll pediment, and embellishments such as the use of ivory and wooden inlays. Also, a thermometer on the front of the case was a feature of the cistern-tube barometers of 1810. Leading makers around this time made their barometers in larger quantities and sold them to whole-sale retailers. It is their names that appeared on these later barometers.

In 1735, Edward Saul wrote in An Historical and Philosophical Account of the Barometer or Weather-Glass that barometers were in regular use in “most houses of figure and distinction.” It was no different later in the century when the Randolphs lived at Wilton, where the weather and temperature had a sway over the operation of the plantation and its cash crop, tobacco. It would not come as a surprise to see a barometer having a prominent place in an area of the house where Mr. Randolph would take care of the business of running his plantation. This provided him with a way of keeping an eye on what kind of weather to expect based on the rise and fall of the mercury. 


Goodison, Nicholas. English Barometers,1680-1860: A History of Domestic Barometers and
            their Makers. Crown Publishers, Inc. New York, 1968.
Netting, Ruth. “It’s a Breeze: How Air PressureAffects You: The Mercurial  Barometer:
            MeasuringPressure”. NASA.  22 January 2003.14 July 2012.                    
Netting, Ruth. “It’s a Breeze: How Air Pressure Affects You: Feeling Pressured?”. NASA.22
            January2003. 14 July 2012. <>
“Weather: How a Barometer Measures AirPressure”.  USA Today.  20 May 2005. 14 July 2012.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A Gift Within A Gift

Object: Pin cushion/pillow, c. 1755
Accession #: 1986.0008
One historian describes “maternity” pincushions as being “popular in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as a gift to new mother [and] were stuck with pins arranged to form a design or verse, and as pins were expensive, the great number that went into the arrangement were a welcome gift.”  Most pins, which were made by hand in the 17th century, sold in America had been imported until the 1830s, when the manufacture of one-piece pins began in Connecticut.  The invention of a machine to make pins in one piece was made in the 1820s whereas previously pins came in two pieces, the head having to be clamped onto the shaft.  One historian stresses the importance of pins by stating, “Aside from the needle, there was no more important tool, especially for plain sewing, than the ordinary straight or common pin.”
This small square pin cushion is decorated with pins that form initials and dates.  The pin cushion was probably made by or for Mary Scott Randolph who was the wife of Brett Randolph I, cousin of William Randolph III, of Wilton.  The pins form the initials of Mary and Brett’s children, “R.R.” (Richard Randolph II) born August 17, 1754 (on back); “S.R.” (Susanna Randolph) born December 8, 1756; “H.R.” (Henry Randolph) born October 7, 1758; “B.R.” (Brett Randolph) born February 17, 1760.  The pin cushion is off white satin. This pin cushion could possibly be a “maternity pincushion” made for the mother either before or after the child was born.  The gift was not in the decorative pillow or pincushion, but was the collection of pins which were used for various things such as fastening diapers. Pins, particularly new ones, were also thought to bring good luck.

As pins were easily lost, pincushions were made out of a variety of materials including paper and fabric. Scraps left over from dressmaking could have also been used to make the maternity pincushion. Popular shapes for pincushions were hearts, stars, spheres, and squares. One historian points out how pincushions made as gifts for newborns “typically bore a design as well as a message, like one described by Anna Green Winslow in her diary: ‘My aunt stuck a white sattan pincushion for Mrs. Waters. On one side, is a planthorn with flowers, on the reverse, just under the border are, on one side stuck the words, JOSIAH WATERS, then follows on the end, Decr 1771, and on the next side and end are these words, Welcome Little Stranger.’”
The pin cushion in Wilton’s collection most likely was made for decoration as its pins are still intact. However, the person who lovingly formed the initials and dates of Mary Scott’s children might have meant for her to have used the pins as well. Either way, the pin cushion has been preserved and was kept through the succeeding generations of the family and continues to show what these humble metal fasteners meant to everyday life in 18th century.
Kirsch, Francine. "The Beaded Pincushion Meant for showing, not sewing", The New England
Antiques Journal, March 2010.  28-32.  21 June 2012.

Wiessman, Judith Reiter and Wendy Lavitt. Labors of Love: America’s Textiles and
Needlework, 1650-1930. Random House. New York, 1987.

Walton, Paula. “Pincushions”. A Sweet Remembrance. 21 June 2012.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

To Clean and To Chill

Object: Wine Rinser
Accession #: 1904.0001

 As a guest for dinner at Wilton, one might have had their own wine rinser next to their dish during each course.  As one historian points out, “Glass rinsers were essential to genteel dining in the eighteenth century,” so it would have been for the Randolphs.  Dinner would have had a minimum of 3 courses and a different wine might have been served for each course. So a wine rinser would be placed around the table and filled with water, or even ice, for washing and chilling glasses between courses or wines.

This early 19th century clear, round glass wine rinser with a lip on each side has a continuous band of incised diamond filled cross hatching surmounted by a continuous band of oblique incised cuts.  It was common to see a wine rinser on the table in the 18th and 19th century at an elaborate dinner which might have had lemon water in it or water and ice essential during the hot months.
Before the second half of the 18th century a bowl was kept on the sideboard during dinner to rinse and chill glass between courses.  As one historian contends, “in the eighteenth century, wines were still preferred as cold as possible and the monteith continued to be used for cooling glasses.” However, in fashionable society, these large ornamental bowls, usually of silver, which suspended wine glasses from the notched rim, became obsolete.  This change in preference came after individual wine-glass-coolers, made of glass, were used at the coronation banquet of George III and Queen Charlotte in 1760. 

Alcohol was prescribed by doctors to ward off or cure many ailments.  Access to dependable sources of potable water was difficult, thus wine and other types of alcohol were seen as healthier to drink than water.  As one historian explains, “as in almost every Western nation, alcohol consumption was an intrinsic feature of social gatherings within all classes of American society.”  Foreign wines were purchased by those who could afford them, therefore it is likely that the Randolphs served wine from overseas to their guests.

Especially in the summertime, guests would have as preferred their wine cold.  According to archeological reports, the Randolphs did have an ice house.  An icehouse was common in larger homes in the 18th and 19th centuries and “most Virginia icehouses were brick lined and could be as large as fifteen feet in diameter and of a similar depth.”  The ice was collected in the winter time from large stretches of water and put in a chamber, often packed with straw.  The chamber could be built below the ground or into the side of a bank where the ice could be well insulated. The ice houses could sustain a cool temperature even through the grueling summer months when ice was needed for cooling and preservation.  One historian agrees, “Though not as efficient and convenient as our modern refrigerators, they did the job and kept fresh butter, milk, meats, and vegetables on the table, and, of course, ice for the after dinner drink.”
Dinner for the Randolphs was the most important meal of the day, especially when they had guests in attendance and would entertain them in the dining room.  The Randolphs would strive to impress their guests with a certain level of extravagance as well as comfort.  So it would not be surprising if each guest had a wine rinser to chill and clean their glasses between courses. As one historian puts it, indeed “the abundance of highly reflective cut glass would have added to the glittering effect of a dinner party,” which would please not only the guests but also the host and hostess.



Butler, Roy. “Early Ice Houses”. History. Library Point: Central Rappahannock Library. 24
March 2010. 18 May 2012. <>
Egan, Heather. “Homewood House Museum Offers Lecture Series on the Art of Dining”. John
Hopkins Gazette on the Web. September 25, 2006. 17 May 2012.
Hume, Audrey Noel. Food. Williamsburg: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1978.
Martin, L.G. “Petworth House Ice-House”. Petworth. 31 May 2009. 18 May 2012.
McLeod, Stephen A., ed. Dining with the Washingtons. Mount Vernon: Mount Vernon Ladies’
            Association, 2011.
Williams, Sarah-Paston. The Art of Dining: a history of cooking and eating. London:  National
            Trust Entreprises Unlimited, 1993.
“Wine-Glass Cooler or Rinser”. Encyclo Online Encyclopedia. 31 May 2012. 17 May 2012.
“An Evening Card Party in Regency England” March 2003. 18 May 2012.
“Monteith” 25 May 2012.

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Divine Seat

Object: Bishop’s Folding Traveling Chair
c. 1750-1770

Accession #: 1998.0001

With most folding furniture constructed during the 18th century more emphasis is focused on how the chair works rather than the artistic or decorative arts aspects of the furniture.  Such emphasis may not have been the case with this particular folding chair.  This bishop’s chair is made of walnut with leather cushioned arms and seat.  The pierced splat is decoratively adorned with a lattice design and leaf motif.  Where the lattice work ends and meets at the top of the chair is an image of a cross.  Above the cross is the top rail, or crest rail, which has a row of fleur-de-leis bordered by a row of leaves, and the ears of the chair ripple out with carved ridges.  The chair has hinges on both sides to accommodate folding and carrying by the owner.

In the late 18th century, folding furniture was beginning to be made for travelling.  Some chairs referred to as “folding chairs” did not actually fold, but were taken apart when transported. Folding furniture dates back to the ancient Greeks who had a folding stool which had “X” shaped legs and a leather seat.  The owner’s status was reflected in the construction of these stools.  There is also evidence of folding furniture found in Egyptian tombs. 

The parlor of Wilton was where weddings, funerals, and christenings likely took place.  It is quite possible that the visiting clergy may have used a chair similar to this one while officiating at these events.  This type of chair may have evolved from the faldstool which was a portable chair stool that was taken with the bishop on his travels away from his own cathedral or place of worship.  The faldstool became a ceremonial chair taken with the bishop and may have been covered with silk.  It was used by most traveling clergy as early as the Middle Ages.  According to one historian, “The bishop's chair is called a cathedra from the Latin word for chair and it is the presence of the bishop's cathedra in a church that makes it a cathedral. The bishop's chair, then is a symbol of the bishop's teaching office and pastoral power in his diocese.”  The chair represented the authority to teach in ancient times. 

It was common for ministers to do extensive travelling outside of their own church buildings and also to make visits to homes.  In his book called Old Churches and Families of Virginia, Bishop Meade writes of a minister of the Bristol Parish in Dinwiddie County who “during his years of travelling, when he visited counties in North Carolina and Virginia,” was involved in “preaching in private homes.”  Also in George Wythe Munford’s The Two Parsons: Cupid’s sports; The dream; and the jewels of Virginia, Parson Buchanan is visited by a gentleman, “…announcing himself as Col. Robert Braintree, of the county of Mecklenburg.  After a few common-place remarks, he said, ‘I presume Mr. Buchanan, you have heard that I am about to be married to Miss Ingledon. I have called to request you to hold in readiness to perform the ceremony.  It is to take place on Thursday evening next, at her mother’s residence, at eight o’clock.’” As was the case with some weddings, funerals and christenings also took place in the home.  The Miss Ingledon mentioned by Munford is believed to be Miss Lucy Singleton, daughter of the late Captain Anthony Singleton and Lucy Harrison Singleton, widow of Peyton Randolph of Wilton.

Folding furniture was made for the convenience of travel.  A chair such as this was made for traveling clergy who presided over weddings, funerals, and christenings extending beyond the bounds of their own church walls and into such homes as Wilton. This chair and its counterparts were a symbol of the authority the clergy had who carried it along on his journeys. 

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Munford, George Wythe. The Two Parsons, Cupid’s sport; the dream; and the jewels of Virginia. 7 May 2012. <>
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