Tuesday, January 27, 2015

"A Great Storm of Snow" in Samuel Lane's New Hampshire, 1748

Transcribed from Lane almanac, February 1748
Courtesy, New Hampshire Historical Society
Cordwaining or shoe making in eighteenth-century rural New England was an intriguing episode, frequently an entrepreneurial activity, and almost always one which involved diversification to make a suitable living. Where were shoes were made? Who made them and for whom? How were they sold?  The shoe making family of the Lanes in Stratham & Hampton, New Hampshire are the most probably the best documented in the 18th century. Samuel Lane (1716-1806) kept an “almanack” over a 60 year period. His almanack or day book follows his life from his time as an apprentice to his father through old age. Contemporary accounts reveal that Lane-made shoes were a popular purchase in Portsmouth on Market Days. However, his success lay not only in the successful shoe trade, but also relied on his training as a surveyor, his ability to accumulate land for pasturing animals and growing grains. The success of the family was an effort which involved every member.

Courtesy, New Hampshire Historical Society
Winters were incredibly long – continuing what is known as “the little ice age”.  A few extracts from Lane’s diary make for interesting reading on these snowy days, especially as I sit in my studio only a few miles distant from the Lane homestead.

The sense of being snow bound is palpable in his writing: Lane and his family and friends frequently spent weeks unable to get much further than the mill pond on his property or waiting for men driving oxen to open the road between Greenland and Portsmouth. Snow shoes were essential.

These hand-hewn snow shoes were once owned by Major General Artemas Ward. They are in the collection of Harvard University.  Made by 1768, similar ones were used throughout New England. 1

For more on Samuel Lane, see

1. These hand-hewn snow shoes were once owned by Major General Artemas Ward. They are in the collection of Harvard University.  Made by 1768, of rawhide webbing, wood, leather and early iron nails, they are believed to be Native American made, although the tribe undetermined. Noted in the "Ward Homestead Album", they belonged to General Ward. An early paper label reads: "Maj. Gen. Artemas Ward his [rackets?] bought of David Wheelock of Shrewsbury for [2 6? Feb 20, 1768?]”
Location - General Artemas Ward House Museum; HU1574

Friday, January 23, 2015

A Frosty, Fashionable January, circa 1790s

Winterthur Museum Object Number:
1959.0756 A

I recently came across this image of “January” in the Winterthur Museum Collection (More). It is a delightful example of a genre painting -- winter ice skating, with three fashionably attired young women placed prominently in the foreground right with their oversized muffs, hats and elaborate plumes. A seated young gentleman in crimson coat has his back to the viewer and appears to be donning (or removing) his skates, while conversing. A dog stands by. The young men skating in the distance are clad in drab common wear – no bright red coats –which look well-worn. The painting is reverse (oil) painted on glass – an oft-encountered example of the skilled artisans and artists of the Asian Export trade. Made in Canton, China, it was intended for a Western audience. The date of 1789-1810 for its execution corresponds perfectly with the taste and style of the era. Another example of the monthly series is one of a group fishing - here a neatly dressed young lady disengages a fish from her hook.

Fashion Plate, December 1797

Sunday, January 18, 2015

If These Shoes Could Talk….New England Shoe Stories, 1750-1850

I greet you with excitement on this wintery morning: Presenting the invitation for "Cosmopolitan Consumption: New England Shoe Stories, 1750-1850," co-curated with Sandra Rux, curator emerita of the Portsmouth Historical Society and independent museum professional.  We have selected over 35 pairs of historic shoes from over a dozen museums and private lenders. The exhibit will display wedding shoes, dancing slippers, boots, everyday and remade shoes, as well as some rare garments and accessories. Visitors will see dazzling brocades and damasks, silks, leather, and calamancoes—from New England, Great Britain, and France. Many of the pieces in the exhibition have never before been viewed by the public.

Through the lives and letters of clever apprentices, skilled cordwainers, wealthy merchants and elegant brides, Cosmopolitan Consumption will take us on a journey from bustling London streets, to ship cargo holds, to New England shops and, ultimately, to the feet of eager consumers throughout the region. The “shoe stories” recount a young bride dancing with George Washington during his visit to Portsmouth or a pair of shoes remade from a 1730s wedding dress to a pair of 1773 wedding shoes. They trace the fortunes and misfortunes of wearers as shoes were altered to accommodate poor health and changing styles, and finally, they provide glimpse into the shoemaking business of artisans like Sam Lane of Stratham, who sold his shoes at Market Square in Portsmouth. This rich shoemaking heritage continues today. We ask our viewers to consider how these fashionable shoes reveal the hopes and dreams of New Englanders.
Invitation design by Phineas Graphics
Visitors will also be treated to lectures, gallery talks, a workshop, and a unique shoe-shopping event! Of particular interest, we will hold a mini-shoe symposium 29th-30th May. Susan Holloway Scott, bestselling novelist of historical fiction and well-known history blogger (http://twonerdyhistorygirls.blogspot.com), will present a talk entitled "For the Love of Shoes." The symposium will be held at the Discover Portsmouth Center. (More information to follow.)

So, mark your calendars: February 14-June 5 2015 at the Portsmouth Athenaeum in Portsmouth, New Hampshire!

For updates, you can follow us at twitter using #Shoes2015, at www.PortsmouthAthenaeum.org or Portsmouth Athenaeum on Facebook

We extend our appreciation to the many lenders and sponsors who have made this endeavor possible.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Byron Greenough and His Tall Hats, 1820+

Hats were a crucial element of a man’s ensemble, revealing to a passerby at a glance some identifier –usually socio-economic status -- of the wearer. Hats changed styles throughout the 18th and 19th centuries with regularity, although often with subtleties lost on a modern audience. Height, width, depth of brim, colors, fabrics and even types of trim, could place a hat at a certain time and place. Hats of beaver fur, wool, straw or felt were among the most common. [1]

There were a number of opportunities for hatters in the early Republic, such as twenty-three year old Byron Greenough, who apparently learned the trade in Haverhill, Massachusetts. He may have apprenticed to the town’s best known hatter, Jonathan Webster, before striking out on his own. He settled in Portland, Maine in 1821.

From the textile collection at Historic Deerfield, this especially handsome, striking bleached beaver fur tall hat, with matching grosgrain ribbon, dates to1825-1835. Completed after he arrived in Portland, the condition is excellent. Greenough labeled his hats. His business grew rapidly to include not only retail hats, but also boots and shoes. A successful businessman, he was able to erect a brick flatiron building at the head of Free Street in Portland.

Last year (2013/14) Historic Deerfield had on exhibit this fabulous woman’s bleached beaver fur riding hat, early 19th century.

1. Styles for men’s hats, c. 1700-95

2. For more on Byron Greenough, see

Hard Times for a Shoe Seller.

Cosmopolitan Consumption: New England Shoe Stories, 1750-1850 opens in February at the Portsmouth Athenaeum. The shoe token illustrated below forms part of the exhibit and while it is from New York City it is linked to the Portsmouth area in that odd way history joins events, places and people, or perhaps in that odd way we link people, place and events.

1837 Hard Times Token, Private Collection

This small copper token is dated 1837 on the reverse and represents a shoe merchants resolve to maintain his business at a time when the United States government failed to meet its fiduciary responsibilities. This copper piece, known as a Hard Times token, was privately struck to replace the shortage of currency that occurred from the mid-1830s through the mid-1840s. Several factors led to this predicament. A real estate bubble collapsed and at the same time questionable banking practices flourished.  (How little things change.) In 1832 the charter of the Second Bank of the United States was not extended, which precipitated the banking crisis. The closure of the Central bank took 4 years during which time banking was decentralized and deregulated. This in turn fueled an overextension of credit and as the economy shrank the undercapitalized banks collapse in unsecured debt. With a shrinking economy gold and silver resumed their primacy and by 1837 hard currency was desired and honored over paper currency.
Reverse of Token, Private Collection
Specie, that is cold and silver currency, was hoarded and as the economic crisis solidified the supply of coins began to dwindle. Die-strikers filled the void by striking privately minted copper pieces valued by the public at one cent. Copper tokens with satiric images of politicians soon filled the void, but merchants were quick to see the value of tokens with an image of their business on a token and so business related tokens were minted. (This is a very simplified explanation of the economic downturn that lasted from the mid-1830s to the mid-1840s.)

Image from the collection of the New York Public Library

Chatham Square 1840
From the collection of the New York Public Library

East Side of NYC in 1840
From the collection of the New York Public Library

Henry Anderson’s shoe business was located at Chatham Square, in what is now the Lower East Side of New York City.  At the time, Chatham Square was an establish shopping area and one of the major stops on the Boston Post road--the primary land route that linked New England with New York. The square, named after William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham, was connected to the lower part of Manhattan by Chatham Street.  In case anyone looks for Chatham Street it was renamed Park Row in the later part of the 19th century. Back to Henry, in Longworth’s City Directory of 1839, Anderson’s shoe business was listed at 158 Chatham Street and his residence, listed at 177 Walker Street, was several blocks from his business heading up the Bowery. Walker Street at this time began at West Broadway near St. Johns Park and ended at Division Street, but did not join Canal Street as it does now.   Perhaps the changing neighborhood of Chatham Square may be part of the answer.  

Chatham Square formed one of the city-side flanks of the infamous Five Points neighborhood. Additionally, Chatham Square was the starting point of the Bowery, which in time would develop into an area of theaters, then bars and flop houses. However, in 1837 it was still part of the Post Road system and attracted a cross section of travelers and shoppers.  Was Anderson successful enough to live separately from his business, or was there no room at his business to reside? There is no answer at the present, but it is worth noting that the compilers of Longworth’s Directory noted the distinction between the business and residential addresses.

Chatham Square Circa 1847
Image from the collection of  the Museum of the City of New York

Several images from the 1840s and 50s exist for this area and help to impart a sense of the urban experience of a shoe shopkeeper in the early to mid-19th century.  The first, circa 1847, by Nathaniel Currier of the future Currier and Ives, shows the square with a stagecoach entering the area and pedestrians walking on the sidewalks. The street posts that accommodate awnings to protect pedestrians are an intriguing solution inclement shopping.

Image from the collection of the New York Public Library

This view of Chatham Street in 1856 now includes streetcar tracks and shows the view down Chatham Street toward the lower section of Manhattan.

Image from the collection of the MET

Chatham Street and the square were daguerreotyped in 1853-55 and this image is one of the earliest such view of the city. The view opposes that of the 1856 lithograph and looks up the street from lower Manhattan toward the square.

Image from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of New York

This image of Broadway and Canal Street from 1836 gives a fuller sense of the dynamic neighborhoods that filled this section of Manhattan.

Image from the collection of the Library of Congress

The link to Portsmouth is through a resident of that city. In 1832 when President Andrew Jackson chose not to extend the charter of the Second Bank of the United States, he did so with the aid of his Secretary of the Treasury, Levi Woodbury of Portsmouth, NH. The indirect actions and political machinations of a resident of Portsmouth caused a shoe seller in Chatham Square, NYC to order tokens that advertised his shop while simultaneously providing change for his customers because of the ensuing fiscal crisis.  I wonder if Woodbury ever took the stage from Boston to New York City and passed Anderson’s shop? It is unlikely, but not impossible, such are the dreams of regional history.

Jeff Hopper is a Consultant, Historic House Steward and Social Historian