Chadds Ford Historical Society

Revisiting History


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Chadds Ford Days Spotlight: George Washington

Questions with the General: Why Washington?

On Friday, Allison, our new Programs and Development Manager, sat down with Living Biographer Carl Closs, who portrays George Washington regularly and does so for our Chadds Ford Days, to ask him a few questions and figure out, “Why Washington?”

I asked Carl to come in for an interview as part of a special section in our Chadds Ford Days newspaper pamphlet. While I was interested in delving into the mind of Washington, I was even more interested in the man behind the General and what motivated him to pick and portray an American legend.

Immediately you learn that Carl is a wealth of knowledge and not just about all things Washington. I asked him the usual questions, how long had he been involved with the Chadds Ford Historical Society (since the 1980s), how long had he been Washington at Chadds Ford Days (over 5 years), and when did he start portraying Washington (since 1997), but what was most fascinating to me was when we really started talking about Carl’s story.

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Of course I had to ask him, “Why Washington?” and Carl modified my question by saying, “Well, why even pick the Revolutionary War period?” It all started for Carl with a thirst for learning about all kinds of history. Carl remarked that he was first drawn to Egyptian history, then the Greeks and the Romans. In his teenage years, Carl became a Civil War buff, but over time found that this era was too close to the modern one, that they were “too much like us.”

For Christmas one year, Carl received a book on the Revolutionary War from his uncle. He really liked the colorful uniforms of the period and from there went on to study the people involved. Carl notes that he was always a “studier of people”, more so than the events or battles that took place. He likens himself to Washington in that way because he didn’t enjoy talking about battles and strategy either. The people Carl began studying were the Founding Fathers and he started with Thomas Jefferson then moved on to John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. At first, Washington never appealed to him because Carl always thought he seemed “cold and aloof.” But, Carl wanted to know why the thinkers of the day really looked up to him, especially Jefferson and Adams who wrote about him positively long after his death.

Thus began Carl’s journey to discover who Washington was and unearth why Washington was so beloved and honored. Carl said many profound and thoughtful statements through our time chatting together about researching Washington, but this one statement was really something I connected with: “In order to find out what the Founding Fathers were like, you have to look at the Founding Mothers.” This statement I felt also seemed to sum up his approach to researching Washington. Yes, he read the usual books about him, but Carl thought it was just as important to read about the people Washington interacted with and the letters between them. He said because Washington wrote so much (over 40,000 letters – more than any other President!) it makes it easier to accurately portray him and know what he thought.

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After talking about many more topics, we then ended our conversation discussing the challenges of portraying a figure like Washington. Carl took a long pause before answering this question and revealed that it is difficult to present to an audience of mixed ages, as he has to figure out what sort of information they will be coming to his presentation with. With adults sometimes he finds that they ask about battle strategy or the myths that are perpetuated about Washington, which aren’t the more interesting aspects of Washington. He really enjoys presenting in front of college students and especially children. Carl smiled as he remarked that “kids ask the best questions.”  He went on to tell one of his favorite stories about a group of second graders in which a boy asked him, “What kinds of books did you read?” Carl remarked that this was a very good question and answered him as Washington by saying, “Mostly books on farming, but also ones on a wide range of topics. I have over 900 books in my library – and so much so that they no longer fit on my bookshelves! Martha, my wife, has a policy that if I want to get a new book I have to get rid of one first.” The kid thought about his reply a moment and then asked innocently, “Don’t you have a Kindle?” Carl gently answered that he did not think he had that book in his library. The young boy, not understanding the cultural differences, went on to explain that the Kindle wasn’t one book, but instead something you read many books on. Carl, knowing full well what he meant but wanting to educate the young boy, thoughtfully replied, “Oh, so it’s a book stand!” You can figure out how the conversation continued from there, but I imagine the young boy left with a general understanding of the time period, the lack of electronic devices, and an idea of the kind of individual Washington was based on Carl’s thoughtful portrayal of him.

If you are looking for something to do during Chadds Ford Days this September 12th-13th, I strongly recommend you take the time to witness his presentations at 2:30 pm on both Saturday and Sunday. Carl’s thoughtful and well-researched approach to portraying Washington is not to be missed!

To learn more about Living Biographer Carl Closs, please visit his website: http://www.gwashington.net/

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Chadds Ford Days Spotlight: Windsor Chairs

Take a look at our latest interview with one of our Chadds Ford Days demonstrators, Jim Stevens. Jim will be demonstrating the making of Windsor chairs, which are both a work of art and an important part of our American heritage. Make sure to stop by and see Jim during Chadds Ford Days this September 12th-13th.

Tell us a bit about yourself, where did you grow up, etc.?

I grew up in Connecticut, in New England. I moved down to Delaware about 20 years ago. I took courses in New Hampshire on Windsor chair making. I learned how the chairs were made in 18th century and why they last so long. It was through this class that I learned to make them myself.

How did you end up in Chadds Ford Days, and how many years have you attended?

I’ve attended Chadds Ford Days for the past 4-5 years. I heard about it though Scott Gold [read his Chadds Ford Days interview here], and then I called and got in as a demonstrator. The show is a very enjoyable experience and the kids love it. There is a lot of geometry involved in making Windsor chairs, and so the kids are also interested to see how they’re made.

What is your craft and how did you get started in it?

My craft is Windsor Chairs. I got started in it because I saw an advertisement for them in a woodworking magazine, and it was then I started taking courses on them in New Hampshire.

How did this play into the lives of colonists/what is its historical significance?

The Windsor chairs originally come from England. When they made their way over here, Americans started making them. There were many different variations on them, for example the Sack Back. They were widely purchased, then spread to different designs. Many were made in Philadelphia, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. Windsor chairs were used in Continental Congress, also.

What do you want people to remember about your craft?

That they are handmade and that they’ll last forever.

Are there any interesting facts/common misconceptions surrounding it?

A common misconception is the reason the chairs last so long. Most people don’t know it’s all in the feet. And the wood I use is red oak, eastern white pine, and maple. Each wood is used for a different part of the chair.

What in particular can we look forward to seeing at your booth this Chadds Ford Days?

I will be demonstrating crafting the back spindles and the arms. I may also be demonstrating crafting the seats, which are all hand carved.


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Mythbuster Friday: Catching on Fire was the Number Two Cause of Death for Colonial Women

Myth: In Colonial America, the leading cause of death in women was childbirth. And the second leading cause of death was burning to death from their long skirts catching on fire.

Truth:

It is common knowledge that women would wear long skirts, and several layers of them, in Colonial America. And it is true that one of their main duties as housewives was cooking by the open fire. These floor length skirts could conceivably fall into the open hearth and catch fire. There have been recorded cases of women dying because their clothes caught fire. However, this was not the norm, and definitely not the second leading cause of death for Colonial women.

This was the common skirt length for women of the 1700s

This was the common skirt length for women of the 1700s

First of all, women in the 1700s were used to wearing long skirts all year round, and also had practically spent their whole lives around open fires. If they caught fire as easily as the myth suggests, they would be used to it and so prepared to put out the fire. These women would also be used to avoiding the flames, having grown up in long skirts. The typical fabrics that were used in Colonial America were linen and wool, which naturally do not catch fire as easily as the man-made fibers used in today’s clothing. And these fabrics do not burst into flame, like the myth seems to imply, but rather only smolder. This myth definitely errs when it claims that one of the leading causes of death for colonial women was catching fire and burning to death. Some suggest that this claim perhaps came from Colonial reenactors, who may have substituted highly flammable fabrics for the more flame-resistant wool and linen.

The other aspect of the myth that is false is the claim that the leading cause of death for Colonial women was childbirth. Dying from childbirth was a lot more common in the 1700s than it is today, but the record has been exaggerated. Many women did die from giving birth in Colonial times, and this is almost unheard of today, due to modern medicine.  Because of this, many believe dying from childbirth was a much more common form of death than it was in reality. It was far from being the first cause of death for women.

The actual leading cause of death in the 1700s was disease. This was mostly due to lack of understanding of germs and sanitation. But disease was also spread because of environment and dietary deficiencies, especially with the early settlements. Everyone was in danger of catching a deadly disease to a certain extent, but Native Americans were extremely susceptible to the diseases brought by immigrants and many tribes were wiped out because of this. The main diseases that plagued Colonial America were smallpox, measles, influenza, scarlet fever, and yellow fever. Immunizations were almost unheard of in the 1700s and so many died from disease. In fact, whole cities were quarantined to prevent the spread of deadly sicknesses.

So while childbirth was a common cause of death for women in Colonial America, the leading cause of death for everyone, including women, was disease. And as for women burning to death on account of their petticoats, this death was nearly unheard of in the 1700s, and most definitely not the second most common cause of death.

References:

http://www.history.org/foundation/journal/winter08/stuff.cfm

https://historymyths.wordpress.com/2014/01/25/revisited-myth-2-burning-to-death-from-their-long-petticoats-catching-fire-was-the-leading-cause-of-death-for-colonial-american-women-after-childbirth/

http://www.earlyamerica.com/early-america-review/volume-11/early-american-epidemics/

http://www.learnnc.org/lp/editions/nchist-twoworlds/1689

http://www.understandingyourancestors.com/wea/death.aspx

Mary Miley Theobald, Death by Petticoat with The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC, 2012).

Photo Credit:

Colonial kitchen with woman spinning, an engraving, 1885, A Brief History of the United States by Joel Dorman Steele and Esther Baker Steele, 1885

“Le Bénédicité” by Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, c. 1740


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Chadds Ford Days Spotlight: 18th Century Garden Designs

Below is our interview with Chuck Feld, who demonstrates 18th Century Garden Designs at Chadds Ford Days. Come out and see his fascinating demonstration on American horticulture this September 12th-13th!

Tell us a bit about yourself, where did you grow up, etc.?

I grew up outside Pittsburgh, and I went to Penn State to study horticulture. I moved to Chadds Ford to work for the largest landscape nursery in PA, the J Franklin Styers Nurseries, where I became Vice-President. I worked there for 20 years and then eventually I left in 1997 to spend more time with my own 4-acre nursery. I am the owner of Birmingham Gardens and Propagation Nursery and am a PA certified Horticulturist. This is my 9th year now as the instructor of Horticulture, Landscape and Turf Management at Williamson College of the Trades. I’ve also served on the board and committees of the PA Landscape & Nursery Association, and served on numerous local Arboretum committees and board. I’ve lectured at trade conferences on insect and disease control, nursery management and the history of horticulture in America, and taught classes at Longwood Gardens.

How did you end up in Chadds Ford Days, and how many years have you attended?

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One of Chuck’s amazing carved pumpkins

I was one of the original pumpkin carvers at Chadds Ford’s Great Pumpkin Carve in October. So I have pretty much always been involved with the Chadds Ford Historical Society. I began giving talks 6 years ago at the CFHS, as I have always been a history buff. I was a speaker the last 2 years on the history of horticulture, which goes back to 1500s. This will be my 3rd year at Chadds Ford Days as a demonstrator.

What is your demonstration and how did you get started in it?

I demonstrate 18th century Garden Designs.  I went to Penn State and got my degree in Ornamental Horticulture and that’s how it all started.

How did this play into the lives of colonists /what is its historical significance?

IMG_1710When the settlers first came to America, they needed food, and so they weren’t concerned with landscaping. The first landscaping wasn’t until the late 1600s.  When we hear about our Founding Fathers, we often think of names like Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin, but not names like Marshall, Prince, or Bartram. While not as familiar, these early plant explorers, botanic gardeners, and nurserymen played a crucial role as Founding Fathers of American horticulture.  In the 1700s, horticulture in the colonies focused significant energy on shipping plants from the wilds of this country to Europe, and especially to England. For example, John Bartram (1699-1777), a self- taught botanist, vigorously collected seeds and plants specimens from the colonies to be grown in his nursery, but also shipped them to England. His activity helped to establish a trans-Atlantic exchange of plants with London merchant Peter Collinson, an exchange that was participated by a host of American botanists. These explorers traveled from Maine to Florida and west of the Mississippi collecting plants and seeds to exchange with horticulturists in Europe.

Are there any interesting facts/common misconceptions surrounding it?

It was the settlers who brought fruit trees with them. One of these was the apple, not to eat, but rather to drink. It would last a good while, and then apple cider grows hard and becomes alcoholic.

What in particular can we look forward to seeing at your booth this Chadds Ford Days?

I always bring in seeds and demonstrate seed germination. I also do a grafting demonstration with apples, and people are really interested in that. I tell stories about the early settlers and the history of American horticulture.

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One of Chuck’s lectures and demonstrations at the CFHS

Chuck Feld grafting demo IMG_1715


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Mythbuster Friday: “Don’t Throw the Baby out with the Bathwater”

Myth: The phrase “Don’t Throw the Baby out with the Bathwater” originated in colonial times, and it referred to the bathing practices of the time. In a household, the father would bathe first, then the mother, and then the children, oldest to youngest. Everyone would use the same water, thus by the time the baby got its bath, the water would be so filthy that there was danger of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”

Truth:

Many quote this phrase when talking about bathing habits of the American colonists and assume that the phrase “Don’t Throw the Baby out with the Bathwater” came from this time period. It is commonly believed that a typical colonial household would not bathe more than a few times every year. Thus, when the household did bathe, they would go in order of oldest to youngest, and eventually make the water so dirty that the baby could easily be lost in it.

It is true that indoor plumbing wasn’t even invented until the nineteenth century, and therefore, up until that time, people did not take baths very often. It was too much work to haul all the water up, heat it up, and then dump it at the end of the night. Because of this, American colonists most likely did not bathe more than twice a year. However, this does not mean that colonists did not wash themselves. Many households from this time period did have washbasins, as shown in their inventories. Colonists would therefore have taken sponge baths, and most likely have done so daily. It’s not that they did not care about cleanliness, but rather it was simply much more difficult to attain than it is for us today.

Murner.Nerrenbeschwerung.kindPerhaps people did bathe from oldest to youngest, like the myth states. However, it is unlikely that the water would be so dirty you could lose a baby in it.

The real problem with the myth, though, is that the phrase “Don’t Throw the Baby out with the Bathwater” was around even earlier than the 1500s. The phrase was a common German proverb and used by many well known writers.  The earliest known reference to the phrase is in Thomas Murner’s Narrenbeschwörung (Appeal to Fools), which is dated 1512.  The phrase was also first used in English by Thomas Carlyle in his essay against the evil of slavery entitled Occasional Discourse on the Nigger Question, from 1849. He used it to make the point that while we must get rid of slavery (the dirty bath water), we must not forget the wellbeing of the slaves (the baby) as we do so. After the late 1800s, the phrase was well known and commonly used.  Unfortunately for the myth, it is clear that the phrase “Don’t Throw the Baby out with the Bathwater” did not originate from colonial times, and did not even originate from America.

So this myth does not have much truth to it, as neither the history of bathing nor the history of the phrase back it up. However, the myth does provide an amusing (though fictional) story, and reminds us how fortunate we are for the invention of indoor plumbing.

References:

https://historymyths.wordpress.com/2011/08/20/myth-people-bathed-once-a-year/

http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/dont-throw-the-baby-out-with-the-bathwater.html

http://www.history.org/foundation/journal/autumn00/bathe.cfm

https://thehistoricpresent.wordpress.com/2008/10/01/people-in-colonial-times-never-took-baths/

Photo Credit:

Narrenbeschwörung (Appeal to Fools) by Thomas Murner, 1512

Post by Anne Ciskanik


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Chadds Ford Days Spotlight: Ned Hector

Here is an interview with Noah Lewis, who provides a unique insight into the Battle of the Brandywine and into the African-American contribution to the fight for American Independence. Come see this live demonstration September 12th-13th at Chadds Ford Days 2015.

Tell us a bit about yourself, where did you grow up, etc.?

I was born in Germany in a military family. I grew up mostly in Fort Knox, Kentucky and Aldan, PA.

How did you end up in Chadds Ford Days, and how many years have you attended?

I have been attending for more than ten years. I was asked by the Historical Society to attend to represent one of soldiers that was at the battle.

What do you demonstrate and how did you get started in it?

I began presenting the hero Ned Hector in 1996 at Bywood School, where I would go into my daughter’s 4th grade class and do presentations on electricity and biology. Mrs. Freeberry, my daughter’s teacher, asked if I had any presentations for the subject of colonial America.2013-09-08 15.12.34

During recent genealogical research on my family I had learned about a black continental soldier who fought in the Battle of Brandywine and was held in such high regard by his community that they named a street after him in the mid 1850s. I was amazed and fascinated by Edward Hector and the heritage of other black historical figures who contributed to America’s freedom.

After thinking over Mrs. Freeberry’s request, I informed her I would be honored to present this subject. Would she mind if I came dressed out? She gave me the nod, and I returned the following years. In 2000 the suggestion was made that I should take this program to other schools. It sounded good, so I did.

How did Ned Hector play into the lives of colonists around Chadds Ford/what is his historical significance?

Ned represents the Black contribution during the Revolutionary War.  Many wrongly think colonial Blacks were only slaves, or only poor people, and if in the military, they were nothing but manual laborers. I hope what I do will help our present day culture to appreciate what colonial Blacks did to help all present day Americans to be free.

What do you want people to remember about your demonstration?

African-Americans helped America to be free. African-American history is American history and as such, it belongs to all Americans. All Americans need to embrace it.

Are there any interesting facts/common misconceptions surrounding it?

3 to 5 thousand African-Americans fought for the American cause. 7 to 10 thousand served the British side.

General Washington would command the most integrated army until 1948 when Harry S. Truman would integrate the army for Korea.

General Washington would also command at least 3 largely Black units, the Marblehearders from Massachusetts, the 1st Rhode Island, and the Bucks of America.

By the end of the war 10 to 25% of General Washington’s army would be People of Color.

What in particular can we look forward to seeing from you this Chadds Ford Days?

An interactive presentation that will help the public to understand The Battle of Brandywine from Ned’s perspective, what a teamster is, what an artillerist is, and the contributions made by Colonial Blacks to our present day freedom.

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Chadds Ford Days Spotlight: Hand Hewn Wooden Bowls

Check out our interview with Scott Gold, II below!  He is one of the talented demonstrators who will be joining us the September 12th-13th for Chadds Ford Days 2015.  

Tell us a bit about yourself, where did you grow up, etc.?

I grew up on a farm in central PA. After I graduated from high school, I attended Penn State, where I studied agriculture and education. Then I taught at Oxford high school until 2003, when I retired.

How did you end up in Chadds Ford Days, and how many years have you attended?

I became interested in woodcarving. I make bowls and dishes and that sort of thing. Marie Stotler is the head of the demonstrators and I asked if I could attend Chadds Ford Days as a demonstrator.  That way, I could get some exposure for what I do. I think I first came 12-15 years ago, but it might be longer than that.Bowls-ScottGold_0008 - 2001

What is your craft and how did you get started in it?

I have always been interested in building and making things. To be honest, I got started in woodcarving because my wife brought home a handmade bowl and I thought she spent too much on it. So I went with her to a craft show, and watched someone do it. I then studied up on it and learned how to do it myself. Now I bring my bowls and such to 10-12 shows a year.

How did this play into the lives of colonists around Chadds Ford/what is its historical significance?

This craft goes back to cave men times. People have been carving things for thousands of years. I use historical tools myself and make contemporary designs. I try to stay away from the round shape that requires you to use a lathe, so most of my shapes are square and rectangle. There are not many people who do what I do.

What do you want people to remember about your craft?

Most of my pieces are one-of-a-kind, and no two pieces are the same. They are kind of modern day heirlooms.

What in particular can we look forward to seeing at your booth this Chadds Ford Days?

The same as usual, and I will bring several pieces I been working on.

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