Friday, August 28, 2015

Dolly Hancock: Romance, Wedding Shoes & Revolution, August 1775

His choice was very natural, a granddaughter of the great patron and most revered friend of his father. Beauty, politeness, and every domestic virtue justified his predilection.
--John Adams on the marriage of Dorothy and John Hancock
Dolly Hancock's London-made wedding shoes. Courtesy, The Bostonian Society
Dorothy Quincy and John Hancock married August 28, 1775 at Fairfield, Connecticut, the Thaddeus Burr estate. Their wedding was held against the backdrop of the start of the American Revolution. According to family tradition and based on the style of the shoes, it is possible that she wore these delicate London-made, cream silk, low-heeled shoes. The cordwainers were Bragg & Luckin.. 

Their wedding occurred while John was on recess from 2nd Continental Congress in Philadelphia, where he oversaw the war effort as President. John's widowed aunt, Lydia Henchman Hancock, was a close friend of the Burr family and spent much time at their estate. Evidence suggests she played a major role in overseeing the relationship and encouraging the marriage.

For more on the wedding and the Burr Estate, see "Burr Mansion: A Love Story" by Cathryn Prince, November 2013 in

Sunday, August 23, 2015

John Hancock's Table: Turtles, Pineapples and the Paradoxical Politics of 1768

You will always find items both useful and intriguing at the Massachusetts Historical Society ( One tasty tidbit, from the Hancock family papers, is a bill of sale dated 27 June 1768, from Oliver Wendell of Boston to John Hancock. It is bill for six turtles (a weight of 234 pounds) and eighteen pineapples. The total bill came to 16 pounds, 19 shillings. Such exotic fare was shipped from the West Indies and sold (usually dockside) to inns and tavern keepers and representatives of wealthy clientele in Boston, Philadelphia, Charleston, and so on.  

Courtesy, Massachusetts Historical Society, Hancock Family Papers

During the late 18th century & into the 19th,  Mr. Julien promoted the many benefits of turtle soup to his Boston clientele.
These were heady days for Hancock, caught up in the events that would lead ultimately to the Revolution and independence from Great Britain.  By the late spring of 1768 (with the Lydia/Liberty incidents unfolding), Hancock was allied with Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty in organizing resistance to the new taxes imposed on America in the infamous Townshend Duties.  In May, he had been elected to Governor Francis Bernard’s Council, the upper house of the Massachusetts legislature, only to have the people’s choice vetoed by Bernard.  Still, that same day, voters elected him to the House of Representatives.  Two weeks later, he would be elected Major of the Cadets, a new branch of the Massachusetts militia.

Such honors required a gentleman of Hancock’s station to demonstrate his gratitude through celebratory banquets and fetes.  That Hancock was planning festivities at this time of some sort is evident in Oliver Wendell’s bill for exotic fare, especially as the bill appears to several imposing sea turtles, no doubt to be served as a delicacy - turtle soup . Pineapples too had been long associated as luxury items and their appearance at Hancock's table would have heightened the sense of it being a significant celebration. Hancock's uncle, Thomas, had died by this time, leaving the 'Hancock Mansion' to his nephew-- a perfect place for entertaining with his Aunt Lydia as hostess.

For further reading:
Two excellent articles - and everything you could want to know about turtle and mock turtle soup from the University of Pennsylvania Museum:

and Uncovering Hidden Lives: 18th Century Black Mariners:

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Aesop, some Paint, and the Oldest Murals this side of the British Atlantic

The first section of the Warner House Mural, circa 1720

By Jeffrey Hopper, Historic House Steward and Social Historian

We spend a considerable amount of space on this blog writing about historic clothing, but every now and again it is important to remember that this clothing was part of a larger setting. One of my jobs is to manage the Warner House in Portsmouth, NH. Constructed of brick between 1716-18, it is an English Baroque townhouse of London derivation. The design of the house spans the period in American architectural design when social entertainment occurred on two floors, not just the ground floor. After the mid-eighteenth century most American social entertaining occurs on the first or ground floor. Because of this tiered use, in the Warner House, the entrance and staircase act as a processional way to the second floor or piano nobile. Constructed with low risers of approximately 5.5 inches and approximately 12-inch wide steps, the staircase slows the visitor’s ascent. By retarding the ascent several things occur; a straighter posture can be maintained; ascending and descending can be accomplished at a ¾ turn, which is more flattering to the profile and the presentation of clothing; this ¾ turn allows for direct conversation, rather than talking to a fellow-conversant’s back; and for the Warner House visitor an additional reward of this paced ascent is that it provides a space to view the artistic taste of the owners. Painted in oil on plaster between 1718 and 1722 a series of murals fill the walls of the staircase. Although they are cruder in design than their contemporary British counterparts, none-the-less they provide a dramatic art-filled ascent unlike any remaining house from this period in the British-American colonies.  

Croxall's version of the tale circa 1740

The Dean Street images are from London houses of the 1730s, but help to illustrate the use of mural painting in British Atlantic world and the differences between the two worlds. The Dean Street illustrations are all from British History Online.

75 Dean St Staircase, circa 1732, photo circa 1912
Dean St, Gallery

75 Dean St, landing

Dean St Murals after Conservation (destroyed 1920s)

76 Dean St Murals

76 Dean St Murals another view

76 Dean St, Entrance

The article that follows is from the Summer 2015 Warner House newsletter and is part of an attempt to explain the paintings in terms of visual lessons that might have formed part of the moral, textual, political, and artistic understanding of an eighteenth-century visitor as they ascended the stairs for a summer evening’s entertainment at Archibald, a newly appointed member of the King’s Council for the colony, and Sarah, daughter of the Lieutenant Governor of the colony, Macpheadris’s new home in the 1720s.

Here is the link to the article:

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

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Ultimate in Disposable Fashion? The Paper Party Dress, 1966-69

The fashion flash of paper dresses sizzled in the 1960s from about 1966-69. The ultimate in disposable fashion with no skills required. You need it shortened? No need to sew – just cut to the desired length. Need a new wardrobe for entertaining or a picnic? Just look at Hallmark or Scott Paper products. Need to coordinate an event? Buy a dress to match your paper goods!

Not only were they the ultimate of convenience, they came in bright floral prints, graphic imagery (such as Andy Warhol’s soup cans), or more formal tones for evening. I can only image how it might have been to pack for a week, tossing five paper dresses into your valise.

My sisters bought me this unopened dress, in its original packaging, as you can see from the photos. One wonders, with the advent of 3-D printing if we will see its likes again.

Exhibits & further information:
Paper dresses from swinging ‘60s show off planned obsolescence