Friday, November 21, 2014

Martha Washington’s Encampment Tool Kit

©2009 Mount Vernon Ladies' Association
While others wielded weapons and words, Martha Washington preferred using a diminutive tool kit when serving in close proximity to the Revolutionary battlefields near her husband, General George Washington. A needle case or needle book was always at her side – literally. At Valley Forge, her needle case was attached to her waistband by a grosgrain ribbon.  From this approximately 3-inch bit of textile we glean much of her identity and efforts to help her husband and those under his command. It is not widely known that Martha spent substantial time every year with her husband at various encampments, from 1775 until December 1783.  Indeed, she remained with her husband close to half the time he was away from Mount Vernon. Several of Martha’s wartime artifacts, seemingly commonplace, have survived, and these objects powerfully link Martha to the battlefields where the General commanded his troops.
©2009 Mount Vernon Ladies' Association
During the dreary and bitterly cold winter of 1777-1778, Martha was in camp at George's side at Valley Forge.  Her concern for the troops is documented in letters from many who were present. Throughout that bleak winter of desolation and starvation, she comforted not only her husband, but sought to bring some warmth and civility to the entire camp. Along with other officer's wives, she organized and coordinated small gatherings, for repairing clothes and knitting socks.

In this context, the survival of her needle case or needle book, held by the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, becomes symbolic of her commitment to her husband and her country. It is attributed to Martha Washington, c. 1777-1778, and made at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. It is of silk, broadcloth, buckram and silver-wrapped silk thread. More:

The National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution, also holds a needle case that is thought to have belonged to Martha. When this charming silk brocade case is unfolded, we can just make out the imprints of the needles and pins it once housed.  Some curators have suggested that this charming artifact may even have been fashioned from remnants of an earlier garment.

     In a letter to her friend Mercy Otis Warren, in Massachusetts, Martha  revealed her positive nature, one which she carried into Valley Forge and similar challenges: "I am still determined to be cheerful and happy, in whatever situation I may be; for I have also learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.” 

For more, see “Martha At the Front”
©2009 Mount Vernon Ladies' Association
National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution

National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution

1 comment:

  1. pretty things, I'm curious how this needle case look inside


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.