Blast from the past… 1770s style

Antique Nanking ware platter from Kovels.com. Mine is almost as fabulous!

Antique Nanking ware platter from Kovels.com. Mine is almost as fabulous!

Long story short (which is not one of my strengths…) I found myself at the Rebecca Nurse Homestead in Danvers, Massachusetts earlier today. A small revolutionary war encampment was happening and I went to meet the owner of The Georgian Kitchen. Sadly, I didn’t get to sample any food (total fail on my part not his!) but it did look delicious and I did snag some stunning Nanking ware platters and dessert plates.

This was my first visit back to the 1770s in quite a few years, and while I can’t be sure, I think it’s been nearly seven years since I last visited this particular historic site. As a super-involved RevWar reenactor from 1999 through 2009-ish, I spent many weekends at places like the Homestead. Being there on a beautiful day like today, it’s easy to recall many of the memories I created over the years and I have to admit that I still miss parts of the hobby.

One of things I miss most is teaching and presenting clothing workshops – I love seeing the look on someone’s face when they have an a-ha! moment in the midst of learning a new technique or when a smile pops up while modeling a new gown.

As I looked through my computer files for photographs of events in Danvers, my search came up empty but I did stumble upon a two presentations I gave related to 1770s clothing in Danvers. So instead of pretty event photos, I’m sharing some facts, figures, and what-nots from those notes. Without further ado…

danvers clothing 2007

While the talk was originally 90 minutes or so, I’m cherry picking some of my favorite bits and pieces here, including this unusual portrait of Nancy Bezoil Lane and one of her children. According to the notes I copied at the time, the auction site (F.O. Bailey) that sold the painting had the following to say:

Nancy Bezoil Lane and fifth child by Benjamin Blyth, 1781.

Nancy Bezoil Lane and fifth child by Benjamin Blyth, 1781.

A fine 18th C portrait of Nancy Bezoil Lane (Mrs. Nicholas Lane) and her 5th child (mother of 13 children) of Salem, Mass., in the manner Joseph Badger, from the Frothingham/ Smith family who have resided in Wayne, Maine since the early 1900’s;

http://www.maineantiquedigest.com/articles/jan06/bailey0106.htm

There was one item in the sale that might have escaped unheralded but for a few bidders in the know. It was a large oil on canvas with its subjects identified through family history as Nancy Bezoil Lane and her fifth child of Salem, Massachusetts. Later information dug up revealed that her husband, Nicholas, was a sailmaker. The consigning family was from Wayne, Maine, and represented the Smith side of the Smith/Frothingham connection to the famous furniture makers of Massachusetts.

Apparently, the double portrait was misattributed. Listed as “in the manner of Joseph Badger,” at least two knowledgeable bidders blew off the Badger connection and proceeded on their own knowledge. The winner at $32,480 was dealer Marvin Sadik of Scarborough, Maine, who was dead certain that the artist was actually Benjamin Blyth (baptized 1746-after 1786).

He affirmed later: “There’s a lot of information on [Blyth] in the Massachusetts Historical Society…I’ve had it cleaned, and it looks terrific, and the woman has a wonderful coiffure. It was painted in 1780. We found that out by checking her birth date. It was in Salem.” He later added, “She’s sitting in a Chippendale chair, and the baby is holding a teething ring. I just got it back from the conservator…There are only about three known oil portraits by Blyth, so cleaned up it looks wonderful.”

Sadik referred to a very similar painting in Nina Fletcher Little’s Paintings by New England Provincial Artists 1775-1800 on page 55. “The painting is quite similar to mine of Mrs. Benjamin Moses, virtually the same size as mine, painted by Blyth in 1781, and it is in the Essex Institute in Salem, Massachusetts, and that is evidence enough for me.“

What is perhaps most interesting is that according to the Gloucester & Salem Vital Records books, Nancy’s husband Nicholas was a sailmaker and they married and lived first in Gloucester before moving to Salem, a major port town adjacent to Danvers. The portrait is a great pictorial example of what clothing was being worn by the middling sort and when combined with newspapers from the time, we start to get a more accurate sense of what was being worn in the area.

Although Danvers was primarily a farming community, its proximity and connection to the larger prosperous town of Salem would have exposed many residents to range of goods and services. And even Danvers had its own shops that catered to the fashion needs of the residents.

Here are a few of the listings that were included in the original presentation:

Date Shop Name Owner Business Location
1768 No info Nathan Andrews Cordwainer Unknown
1768 King’s Head Tavern William Jones Tavern Rd fr. Boston to Salem
1768 Bake House Benjamin Pickman, Esq. (of Salem) To be let Near new mills
1769-70 The Bell Inn Francis Symonds Selling India & English good; Entertainment for Man and Horse Near Salem
1774 No info Jeremiah Page Store & Shop adjoining to be let 1 m. east of Mr. P’s Tavern
1774 Mr. P’s Tavern Mr. P______ Tavern 1 m. west of J. Page
1774 Unnamed Joseph Jackson Assortment of English Goods, suitable for all seasons Opp. Capt. Page’s
1769-74 Unnamed William Pool Gloves, Leather Breeches, etc A little below Bell Tavern

Phew! The midnight hour is creeping upon us once again and while it would be lovely to add some more portraits and pretty dresses… that will just have to wait for another post. Happy stitching my friends… and for those that like the challenge of research, I hope you enjoy these little tidbits!

Update: Oops! My bad… this post was totally inspired by the Day 4 CoBloWriMo prompt: Write about a recent event you’ve been to or trip you’ve taken.

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3 thoughts on “Blast from the past… 1770s style

  1. Intrigued by the entertainment for man and horse on offer at the Bell Inn. How does one entertain a horse? Or did entertainment have a different meaning back then?

    • Funny – I had the same exact thought as I was going back over these old notes. I’m pretty sure it just means that food and lodging were available but I’m now trying to picture horses sitting around a fireplace singing tavern songs! Here’s a great sign I found on etsy from a century later so I guess it was a common phrase! An 1888 sign advertising entertainment for man and horse. Karaoke perhaps?

  2. Pingback: Salem Shopping in 1774 | The Mantua Maker at Midnight

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