Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Pudding Cap

Object: Pudding Cap, Reproduction
Accession #: 2005.0042EC

In the eighteenth-century children of both sexes were dressed similarly in petticoats and kept their hair long. Bibbed aprons were also popular. It can sometimes be difficult to determine if a child in a colonial portrait is a boy or a girl. Around the age of five a male child would be "breeched" and dressed in their first pair of breeches. 

A unique article of clothing specifically intended for toddlers learning to walk were pudding caps - padded helmets protecting them from injury due to accidental falls and bumps into furniture.

There are multiple theories to how the nickname of “pudding” came about.  One source from the UK states that the padded rolls showed a similarity to the shape and size of a sausage named black pudding, a popular food still enjoyed today.   A curator at Colonial Williamsburg claims the source of the name came from the caps “resemblance to the shape of pudding or pudding bowls.”

Regardless of where the name came from, many of the pudding caps shared a similar construction.  A simple cap was made of a horseshoe shaped roll that tied around the head in the back, typically with four triangular flaps that attached/ tied at the top of the head with ribbon. Horse hair and other materials were used for stuffing and padding the cap.   The ties in the back and at the top allowed for adjustments to accommodate a growing child’s head.  Many of the pudding caps were designed for everyday wear and tear; made out of dark fabric to disguise stains and dirt.   For a more grand styled pudding cap, leathers, silks and fur trims were frequently in fashion.

The reproduction pudding cap at Wilton is made of a combination of green velvet and leather, showcasing the prosperity of the family.  This item is currently on display in the nursery, where it would have been worn by one of the many Randolph children of Wilton.

Baumgarten, Linda. What Clothes Reveal: The Language of Clothing in Colonial and Federal America : the Colonial Williamsburg Collection. Yale University Press, 2002. 160-167. eBook. 

"'Pudding' safety hat." Museum of Childhood. N.p.. Web. 24 Oct 2013. <>. 
Image Credit 
Chardin, Jean-Siméon. The Young Schoolmistress. 1735. Painting. The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London. Web. 24 Oct 2013. <>. 
          Wilton House Museum 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Standing High

Object: Chest of Drawers,  c. 1740-1760

Accession #: 1909.0003

The Queen Anne period, according to one historian, was known for “its elegant simplicity achieved by beauty of the line.”  This mahogany high chest in Wilton’s collection was made in Massachusetts and gives is an example of a piece from this period. Much of the population and wealth of New England was concentrated in eastern Massachussetts, in and around Boston, and northeastward along the coast through Salem, Marblehead, and Ipswich. The high chest of drawers was introduced from England into Boston in the 18th century.

This high chest of drawers has many distinct features that point toward Marblehead as its possible place of origin. According to one historian, “No town in colonial America capable of supporting a cadre of furniture craftsmen has been less appreciated than Marblehead, and no Massachusetts town has a higher percentage of surviving pieces signed by its known cabinetmakers.”  This same historian brings out three distinct features of Marblehead high chests which are present in this one which stands in the master bedchamber of Wilton.  An incised semicircle at the perimeter of the fans points to Marblehead. In addition, the drawer bottoms’ grain runs from front to back which is “indicator of Marblehead work prior to 1780.” The historian, writing about Marblehead high chests, continues by pointing out that “virtually every piece documented or attributed to Marblehead has either widely spaced double beading or a single bead on the inside edge, with the former appearing just over half the time.” This high chest in Wilton’s collection has double beading. 

Though Wilton was constructed with eleven closets the Randolph family would have used chests of drawers for storage of household linens and clothing. Closets were used to the storing of household goods, not clothing, in the eighteenth-century. According to one historian, “the most commanding piece of furniture in a colonial American home was the high chest of drawers" testament to the owners taste and wealth. Not only could you afford such an elegant piece of furniture, but you had the wherewithal to fill its many drawers with costly garments and textiles. 

This particular high chest of drawers was donated to the Wilton collection by Jessie Dew Ball du Pont whose generosity continues to live on through the Jessie Ball du Pont Religious, Charitable and Educational Fund established in her will.

Lindquist, David P. The Big Book of Antique Furniture. Krause Publications. Iowa, 2002.
Obbard, John W. Early American Furniture: a guide to who, when, and where. Collector Books,
Inc. Paducah, 2006.
Widmer II, Kemble and Judy Anderson. “Furniture from Marblehead”. Antiques Magazine. May
Cheek, Mary Tyler Freeman and Ralph B. Draughon, Jr. “Who Was Jesse Dew Ball dupont?”. 
“High Chest of Drawers”. Decorative Arts Trust. 30 October 2013.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Life of George Washington by John Marshall

Objects: The Life of Washington, Vol. I-V
Object ID: 1998.2.1-5

George Washington was not only considered a military and revolutionary hero, but a man of great personal integrity, duty, honor and patriotism. Known for his roles as the head of the Continental Army and as our nation’s first president; he helped create a legacy of strength and national purpose.
Upon Washington’s death in 1799, at the age of 67, his personal notes and files were left to his nephew, Bushrod Washington. As a friend of the first president, John Marshall announced Washington's death, offered the eulogy, chaired the committee that arranged the funeral and led the commission that planned a monument in the nation's capital. Washington had known Marshall's father, Thomas, through his early surveying career, and during a young Marshall's military service, he developed his own friendship with the commander-in-chief. Due to the close relationship that Marshall shared with George Washington, Bushrod asked Marshall to write the official biography for his uncle. Marshall began writing Washington’s biography in 1801 and continued to add to the manuscript for five years. The resulting biography resulted in five volumes totaling more than 3,200 pages of dates and dates of his personal, political and military life. 
            Born on September 24, 1755 to Thomas and Mary, John Marshall grew up in an adequately educated household that held significant social, religious and political status in Prince William County of Virginia (currently Fauquier County).  Marshall’s formal education began in 1767 from a traveling minister who lived in the household; providing Marshall with readings and teachings. John later went on to receive a more thorough education at the academy of Reverend Archibald Campbell. Marshall also did a six week study at William and Mary College in 1780 where he attended the law lectures of George Wythe.
           During his political activity in the late 1700’s, as Marshall’s private law practice flourished, he served in the House of Delegates and became the leader of the Federalist Party. During this time, Marshall managed to meet and marry Mary Ambler in 1783.  On January 20, 1801, President Adams nominated Marshall to be Chief Justice of the United States with the Senate unanimously confirming the nomination on January 27.  John Marshall was sworn in on February 4, 1801 and served as Chief Justice for thirty-four years.
            The five volume biography that John Marshall wrote is a prized addition to the Wilton library. Not only was Marshall a Randolph decedent of William I, but George Washington was considered to be a good friend of the family.  It was even reported that the Randolph’s entertained Washington at Wilton for three nights when Washington attended the Second Virginia Convention in 1775.

A first edition set of this Washington biography by Randolph family descendant John Marshall can be seen in our current museum exhibition: The Randolph Family Reunion November 2012 through February 2014.

Gordon, Douglas H. "John Marshall: The Fourth Chief Justice." American Bar Association Journal. 41.8 (1995): 698-702, 766-771. Print. <>.    

 Freidel, Frank, and Hugh Sidey. "The Presidential biographies ." The White House . White House Historical Association, n.d. Web. 24 Oct 2013. <>. 

"John Marshall." Library of Virginia. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Oct 2013. <>.

Image Credit[7%2F6%2F4%2F4%2F7644951]%2Csizedata[450x2000]&call=url[file%3Aproduct.chain]

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Dumbwaiter Serves as a Genius Idea

Object name: Serving Table, or Dumbwaiter
Object ID: 1900.27

The dining experience at Wilton ranged from practical, everyday meals, to large dinner parties or celebrations.  In the mid -eighteenth century, having a specific place for such an occurrence was considered an absolute necessity in every prominent, fashionable house.  Since the dining room is the second most elaborate room at Wilton, after the parlor, it was customary to hold dinners for visiting guests in this space.

Breakfast was an informal meal and typically occurred between seven and ten o’clock in the morning. The buffet style meal consisted of rolls, biscuits, cold meats, coffees, teas, and chocolate.  Dinner was a much more formal meal; typically occurring between two and four o’clock in the afternoon. The meal could last hours and up to several courses could be served, including dishes such as meats, fish, vegetables, fruits, pies, rolls and wines.

Since kitchens were considered to be fire hazards and an annoyance, due to odors from supplies and trash, their locations were characteristically set away from the main house.  At the original location of Wilton, the prepared food was most likely brought through the basement door and into the warming kitchen until it was ready to be served in the dining room.  For dinners or formal occasions, Mrs. Randolph would have the slaves dress in all their finery to tend to the meal or have them wait in the nearby passageway to be called in for service.

Common dining room furnishings included large pieces such as a table and chairs to seat guests, to showcase the family’s fine china at place settings and display the courses for the meals. Sideboards and corner cupboards were kept in the room to store, display and protect the owners silver pieces and china. Smaller items, typical to this dining room, were items similar to looking glasses (mirrors), knife boxes and a dumbwaiter.

The dumbwaiter was used to hold the plates and dining fundamentals, as well as food or small platters of cheese and dessert throughout the duration of the meal. It could also hold the glasses and liquor bottles for later in the evenings, after meals have been completed.

Currently on display in the dining room, the mid-18th century, three tiered, mahogany dumbwaiter within the Wilton collection is a fine example of what the Randolph’s might have owned. The table, given as a gift from the Roanoke Committee, in honor of Mrs. Granville Gray Valentine, exhibits a central spiral, turned column and cabriole legs that end with pointed pad feet.  In the warm summer months, dining outside was not uncommon. The dumbwaiter made it easy for the food and drinks to be brought out and served.

Wenger, Mark R. "The Dining Room in Early Virginia." Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture. 3. (1989): 149-159. Web. 24 Oct. 2013. <>.

 "Design and Decor - Convenience." Thomas Jefferson's Montecillo. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Oct 2013. <>. 

Image Credit
Wilton House Museum

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

An Element of Colonial Plantation Medicine

Object: Still
Accession #: 1951.10A-C

Recently featured on Antiques Roadshow's Facebook page, this 18th-century device was used for the distillation of spirits and medicinals. The copper body has two loops for lifting and a removable mushroom-shaped cap with an elongated spout. The person operating the still, usually the mistress of the house, would add the ingredients of her concoction to the body of the still and place it in its iron stand over a fire with the spout sticking out of the fire. The fire would boil the liquid in the base of the still and turn it into gas. This evaporated steam would collect in the top portion of the still and recondense into a liquid in the cooler spout portion, also called the "worm." The mistress would then collect the liquid that drips through the spout. This particular still originally came from Major Robert Beverly's plantation home, Blandfield. It is likely the "six gallon still and worm" Beverly ordered for the house in 1763. The large size of the fire required to heat this still suggests that it was used for spirits or in smaller quantities, medicine.

After the use of bloodletting and purgatives, medicinal or "physick" drinks were the next most popular colonial treatment for a variety of complaints. Due to the scarcity of doctors during this time in America, some medical knowledge was one of the expectations of colonial housewives. Jane Bolling Randolph, the mother of Ryland Randolph, was the author of a book of receipts (recipes) for both cooking and medicinal remedies known as the Commonplace Book. These remedies reflect a combination of herbal knowledge shared from Native American sources, superstition, the ancient European theory of disease arising from an imbalance of bodily humours, and some experimentation.

This simple recipe for the treatment of Whooping Cough comes from Every Man his own Doctor: or, The Poor Planter's Physician, written by Virginia practitioner John Tennant in 1734 [sic throughout]:
For this, boil Hysop and Elicampane, a Handful of each, in 2 Quarts of Water, strain it off, and adding 1 Pound of clean Muscovado Sugar, boil it again, and give the Patient 2 Spoonfuls every 3 hours.


Harbury, Katharine E. Colonial Virginia's Cooking Dynasty. University of South Carolina Press. Columbia, South Carolina: 2004.
Tennant, John. Every Man his own Doctor: or, The Poor Planter's Physician. Facsimile Edition by Printing and Post Office. Williamsburg, Virginia: 1984.

Image Credit

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Light Horse Harry Lee's War Medal

Object: Coin, Commemorative Medal
Accession#: 2008.0017

This brass1 coin medal is after the original gold one, issued by Congress after the Battle of Paulus (Powles) Hook to Major Henry Lee, father of Robert E. Lee.  The front depicts a bust of Major Lee with Latin reading, “The American Congress to Henry Lee, Colonel of Cavalry.” The reverse shows ivy leaves encircling Latin which reads, “Nothwithstanding rivers and entrenchments, he with a small band conquered the foe by warlike skill and prowess and firmly bound by his humanity those who had been conquered by his arms. In memory of the conflict of Paulus Hook, nineteenth of August 1779.”

Henry Lee III, who became known as Light Horse Harry Lee, was born on January 29, 1756 on a 2,000 acre plantation called Leesylvania, near Dumfries, Virginia. His parents were Lucy Grymes Lee and Henry Lee II. Henry Lee III represented Virginia in the Continental Congress from 1786-88 and argued in favor of ratifying the Constitution in 1788. According to one historian “It was on the field of battle during the Revolutionary War, however, that Henry Lee III provided the most significant public service and earned his greatest laurels.” One of his best remembered victories, commemorated in this coin medal, was the Battle at Paulus Hook.

General Washington commanded Maj. Gen. Hugh Mercer to evacuate Paulus Hook after their loss at the Battle of Long Island on August 1, 1776 and the fall of New York City September 15, 1776. The British took over the fort and it became their only permanent stronghold in New Jersey. From 1776-1779, New Jersey was the scene of constant skirmishes and major battles. American morale was high following the successful assault of Stony Point by General Anthony Wayne, a British garrison with over 600 men defending the “rocky promontory rising 150 feet above the [Hudson] river,” in July 1776.  Major Lee wrote General Washington with the proposal to attack Powles Hook which was protected by the Hudson River on three sides and by a large marsh on the west that flooded at high tide. He gained Washington’s “cautious consent” after acquiring enough information about the garrison to plan the attack.

As Major Lee and his men approached the garrison, they found it weaker than expected, the main gate open in expectation of the return of a large Tory patrol. General Washington praised Major Lee’s victory that took place that day:

The General has the pleasure to inform the army that on the night of the 18th instant, Major Lee at the head of a party composed of his own Corps, and detachments from the Virginia and Maryland lines, surprised the Garrison of Powles Hook and brought off a considerable number of Prisoners with very little loss on our side. The Entreprise was executed with a distinguished degree of Address, Activity and Bravery and does great honor to Major Lee and to all the officers and men under his command, who are requested to accept the General’s warmest thanks.

However, not all were as generous with their praise but eventually Generals Woodford and Muhlenberg urged the court martial of Major Lee saying he should have turned the command over to Major Clark. They argued that Major Lee, a cavalry officer, should not have been placed in command of an infantry.

Despite his critics, Major Lee was awarded one of only nine medals in the whole war by Congress. The gold medal was directed to be struck and presented to him for “the remarkable prudence, address, and bravery, displayed on the occasion”. The medal was designed by Joseph Wright of Bordentown, New Jersey who was the first draftsman and die-sinker for the Philadelphia Mint, where it was struck. Major Lee was the only officer of his rank to receive such a distinction in the American Revolution.

The Randolphs of Wilton were well-involved with the American Revolution and would have heard of the attack on Paulus Hook as well as other victories during this struggle. 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.

1 an alloy of copper and zinc; known for its hardness and durability

Cecere, Michael. Wedded to my sword: The Revolutionary War Service of Light Horse Harry Lee
            Heritage Books Inc. Maryland, 2012.
Richardson, William H. and Walter P. Gardner. Washington and "the entreprise against Powles Hook". New             Jersey Title Guarantee and Trust Co. Jersey City, 1929.
“Battle of Paulus Hook”. 26 July 2013. <
“Brass”. Encyclopeadia Britannica. 15 August 2013.

Image Credit

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Conservation of Ryland

Object: Portrait of Ryland Randolph, c. 1756
Accession #: 1990.0012

Portrait of Ryland Randolph before conservation
Purchased in 1990, this portrait is a rare example of John Wollastan's English rococo style portraiture in colonial America. Wollastan traveled from England to America in the mid 18th century, painting portraits of wealthy Americans throughout the colonies in the style he introduced, characterized by graceful poses, pastel colors, and finely detailed costumes. Wollastan's trademark upturned lips and heavy-lidded, almond-shaped eyes are also evident in this portrait of Ryland Randolph, first cousin to Wilton's builder William Randolph III. Ryland's haughty appearance in the portrait fits with his reputation as a somewhat irresponsible landowner and planter who squandered his inheritance on his own interests. Unfortunately, the portrait's appearance at the time of its acquisition disguises theoriginal image through layers of overpainting and a deteriorated condition.

Pursuing conservation of this portrait was a priority of the Museum Board. After thoughtful study, and with community support, noted conservator Scott Nolley undertook the restoration of the portrait he described as a "long-obscured colonial masterwork."

Portrait during conservation: the upper right
quadrant shows the painting cleaned of dirt,
varnish, and overpainting
Ryland's portrait was completely painted over on two separate occasions: once around a century after its completion and again in the early 20th century. At some point in the past a doubtless well-meaning conservator trimmed the canvas around the image area and attached it to a linen backing. Unfortunately, this had begun to come loose, causing the surface to bubble and warp. Additionally, age contributed to crackling in the paint surface, the accumulation of dirt and the discoloration of varnish. Nolley removed each of these detrimental additions to Wollastan's original painting and stabilized it against future deterioration. The picture to the right showing Ryland's paler face is the original image with the dirt and unoriginal paint and varnish removed from the upper right portion. Below left is a picture showing the full portrait completely cleaned but with numerous areas of paint missing from Ryland's face, coat, and around the outside edge of the canvas. Below right shows the painting after Nolley inpainted these losses in a manner consistent with Wollastan's original version. Ryland Randolphs fully conserved portrait is currently on display in the Dining Room.

Ryland's portrait after cleaning,
showing areas of loss before inpainting 
Fully conserved portrait 


Cowden, Gerald Stephen and College of William and Mary, Department of History. The Randolphs of Turkey Island: A Prosopography of the First Three Generations, 1650-1806. Ann Arbor, MI and London. University Microfilms International, 1977.

"John Wollastan." Early American Paintings in the Worcester Art Museum. 22 July 2013. <>

Nolley, Scott. "Paintings Treatment Report." Unpublished internal document, 2003.

Image Credit:

Nolley, Scott. "Paintings Treatment Report." Unpublished internal document, 2003.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Fashionable Bedding

Object: Bedspread, c. 1780
Accession #:  1966.0002
White work flourished during the middle ages when the use of color was prohibited by church edicts as “excessive luxury in dress”. It is white stitching on white background and gained popularity in America until the 1790s when it was considered the symbol of the height of fashion. It was considered so fashionable to the point where some rooms were done all in white work. An example of white work is this English or American White Marseilles Coverlet with a Medallion surrounded By 16 Points and the Royal British Coat of Arms (Lion and Unicorn flanking the closed crown topped by St. George's Cross; “GR” under crown) in Wilton’s collection.
The designs on this particular Marseilles coverlet are significant. St. George was the patron saint of England. According to the apocryphal Acts of St. George, he held rank of tribune in the Roman Army and was beheaded by Diocletian c. 303 for protesting against the Emperor’s persecution of Christians. He was universally recognized as a saint sometime after 900. He had a widespread following and many miracles were attributed to him as well as a legend told of his slaying of a dragon. The banner of St. George, the red cross of the martyr on a white background was adopted for the uniform of English soldiers possible during the reign of Richard I, later became the flag of England and the White Ensign of the Royal Navy. It also has the Royal British Coat of Arms which was used as a national symbol for Great Britain and its reigning monarch.

White bedcovers were in fashion until the 1830s and were still being made in some rural areas as late as the 1850’s and 1860’s. This particular coverlet is a Marseilles coverlet. Marseilles quilts were made in the place of the same name in the South of France and imported to England and from there to the colonies throughout the eighteenth century. According to one historian, these carefully made Marseilles coverlets were “elaborately stuffed and corded, were usually all white and made of silk and linen although colors, and cotton and wool were sometimes used”. Their demand lessened with the 1763 English patent obtained for a loom-weaving process that produced woven cloth resembling the hand-stitched Marseilles quilting.
To hand-stitch white on white took a skilled needle worker and could take several years to complete. Most of this work would have been done during the day when the white on white stitches could be seen best. However, this coverlet in Wilton’s collection is thought to be made on a double loom to give it a quilted effect. The Randolphs would have desired to furnish their homes with the latest fashions and may have sought to adorn their bedrooms with white on white coverlets like this one with similar motifs.

Collins, Michael. “St. George”. Britannia. 4 May 2013.
Weissman, Judith and Wendy Lavitt. Labors of Love: America’s Textiles and Needlework,

1650-1930.  Random House. New York: 1994.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Something to Spice It Up

Object: Spice Grater, 1790-1850

Accession #: 2005.0016

Spices were available to a certain extent in 18th century coastal cities and were sold whole to be cracked or ground at home. Ground spices would lose their aroma before being received by the consumer which is why they were sold whole. A spice grater, like this one found at Wilton, would have been used to grate the whole spices and could have been kept in one of the Randolph’s pockets for use. This one is free formed and punched from iron alloy sheet metal. According to one historian, “Spices were highly valued commodities in 18th century America—vital to food preparation, essential as preservatives of food and prized as medicines.” The search for better routes to the “spice rich lands of the East” is what motivated many of the explorations including Christopher Columbus’ voyage. The particular spice this grater is made for is nutmeg.

Described by one historian as the “quintessential spice”, nutmeg is the kernel of the apricot-like fruit of the tree Myristica fragrans and the soft membranous coat that covers its hard seed case is the spice, mace. These two spices were imported from the Spice Islands with clove. The desire of clove, mace, and nutmeg drove exploration to the original source of these spices which were islands on the Moluccan Sea. In a book written in 1880 called Medicinal Plants; being descriptions with original figures of the principal plants employed in medicine and an account of the characters, properties, and uses of their parts and products of medicinal value by Robert Bentley and Henry Trimen, nutmeg is mentioned as being “used with advantage in mild cases of diarrhea, flatulent colic, and certain forms of dyspepsia…” Spices such as nutmeg were used in food and nutmeg graters were produced beginning in the late 17th century with the growing popularity of serving punch: a brew of rum or brandy, fruit juice, sugar, and water laced with nutmeg and sugar.

Nutmeg Grater, Case and Cover
Acc#: 1968-72, A-B
1708-1708; Maker: Alexander Hudson
DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum
Graters were made of all shapes and sizes, some made suitable for carrying in the pocket and also fitted in a box to hold the nutmeg once grated. The availability of small graters, like this one, “eased [the] preparation” of punch. By the end of the seventeenth century one historian points out that “for fashionable Britons on both sides of the Atlantic, the drinking of warm beverages (coffee, tea, and chocolate), the adopting of polite dining practices in the French mode, and the serving of punch became highly organized social rituals”. The Randolphs would have kept up with these latest fashions and were served beverage cold this time of the year to combat the summer heat. 
Punch, as one historian asserts, “became the most popular mixed alcoholic drink of the 18th century.” This same historian discovered that William Byrd II of Westover Plantation wrote in his Natural History of Virginia, published in 1737, about the process of making punch. Byrd attests that “after which one has a very pleasant drink” and also recorded in his diary, November 16, 1737, while in London about being given a nutmeg grater as a gift. A member of the Randolph family would have been able to afford a fancier nutmeg grater than this one, possible made of silver (see above image) that fitted in a cylindrical box but that served the same purpose.


Davis, John D. The Robert and Meredith Green Collection of Silver Nutmeg Graters. 23 May 2013. <

Earle, Alice Morse. Home Life in Colonial Days. 23 May 2013.

“Nutmeg and Mace”. UCLA: History and Special Collections, Louise M. Darling Biomedical
Library. 18 May 2013. <>

“Spices in Early America: A Bicentennial Report”. Times Daily. 10 December 1974. Google
news. 18 May 2013.

“Nutmeg Graters”. ASCAS. 18 May 2013. <>.

Image Credit