Thursday, August 26, 2010

Women's Equality Day

Ninety years ago today (August 26, 1920), Secretary Bainbridge Colby signed the 19th Amendment into law. After generations of struggle, voting rights were extended to women. In honor of this anniversary, we decided to highlight a few of the remarkable Lee women. Compared to their famous brothers, fathers, and husbands, we know little of the Lee women.

Much like her
husband Thomas Lee, Hannah Ludwell Lee was known for her strong personality. Before moving to The Clifts, Thomas and Hannah lived at Machodoc. In January 1720, thieves broke into their home and set fire to the plantation. Thomas, Hannah, and their children escaped the flames by jumping from an upper window. Hannah, pregnant with their fourth child, miscarried. Thomas and Hannah eventually recovered their financial losses, beginning construction on Stratford Hall in 1738.

We do not know the architect of Stratford Hall, but Thomas and Hannah’s eldest son provided a hint when he mentioned that he regretted Hannah’s taste had been followed in the design.

Alice Lee was a yo
ung teenager when her parents died. Giving up hope of receiving her inheritance from her father’s estate, in 1760 she went to England where she met and married William Shippen, Jr. of Philadelphia. During the meeting of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, she and her husband entertained her brothers and other important revolutionary figures, such as the Adamses. Alice Lee Shippen actively collected money in Philadelphia to support the American troops and accompanied her husband (appointed Director General of Hospitals in April 1777) at several encampments of Washington’s army. These encampments included Middlebrook, NJ, Reading, PA, and Valley Forge, PA.

Alice's sister also expressed views that were not typical of the time. Hannah Lee married Gawen Corbin II of Pecatone Plantation. When Gawen died in 1759, his will stated that Hannah would forfeit the estate if she remarried. Rather than lose the property, Hannah entered a common law marriage with Dr. Richard Lingan. Dr. Lingan moved into Pecatone and there they raised their two children.

In 1778, Hannah Lee Corbin wrote her brother Richard Henry to advocate for voting rights for women landowners. Richard Henry's response (dated March 17, 1778): "Perhaps 'twas thought rather out of character for Women to press into those tumultuous Assemblies of Men where the business of choosing Representatives is conducted."

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Slave Quarters Exhibits On The Way

At the beginning of July we officially closed our slave quarters to the public. These two buildings are reconstructions on the site of the late-18th century stone quarters that housed "home farm" slaves (domestic workers and other skilled laborers).

You've heard already about the preservation work currently in progress, and the planning for educational hands-on and classroom space that will open in the east building in the coming months. But remember I mentioned that there are two buildings? What about the west building (the one closest to the Great House, pictured above)? In October 2010 we'll be revealing a brand new exhibit space in this structure. Designers are putting the finishing touches on the text and graphic panels. I'm working feverishly on lists of museum objects and appropriate reproduction objects to furnish the two lower-level rooms (the building is a double quarter for two families, with main living rooms below and attic lofts above). And Sarah, our collections manager, is getting dirty this week as she tries to safely clean and move the historic furnishings out of the spaces and into storage.

What will you see when we reopen the space in October? You will see two separate living spaces. One will house an enslaved gardener named Anthony (he appears in a 1776 inventory) and other skilled male workers. I am hesitant to call this a "bachelor" household, though. Slave women often worked as field laborers, so perhaps the single men living here had wives and children that they visited on Sundays and holidays at outlying farm quarters away from the Stratford home farm.

The other living space will be furnished to represent a female domestic family, specifically a woman named Nelly and her daughter Mary. Nelly and her child Mary appear in a 1776 estate inventory, and we find Mary again in a 1782 slave list with the descriptor "blind" after her name. What was life like for Mary? That's just one topic we'll touch upon in these new exhibits.

You'll also soon see on display fragments found in archeological digs in the area. We've included things like a stoneware and creamware dish fragments, a sewing needle, and a shell button. Artifacts that indicate that slaves were consumers. They purchased fashionable goods using money earned by raising and selling vegetables and other goods, or bartering their skills.
This project has been in the research and development phase for close to two years, drawing upon period documents, archaeology, and current scholarship. Stay tuned for the big reveal in October. We look forward to having you visit and hearing what you think!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Summer Projects and Interpretation

As you can see in the last five blog entries, we have been very busy at Stratford Hall this summer. Projects are underway in the Southwest Outbuilding, Slave Quarters, and Kitchen. Extensive research and investigations are in progress for the Historic Structure Report (HSR) and Cultural Landscape Inventory (CLI).

So, now what? Two areas greatly impacted by the projects are the interpretation and educational programs.

The interpreters at Stratford Hall guide visitors through the Great House seven times a day, seven days a week. This July, almost two thousand people toured the Great House. When you add in bus loads of school children and special events, our staff interacts with thousands of people each year.

I am the Director on Interpretation and Education. My job is to help take all this new information and ensure it is reflected in the interpretation (guided tours, school activities, and programs). Our interpreters are constantly learning more about Stratford Hall and updating their tours. While the investigations and projects are underway, the interpreters must also know how to talk about what the visitor is seeing (construction, restoration, furniture out of place, and open probes in the walls).

After the projects have been completed and the reports submitted for review to the staff here at Stratford Hall, all aspects of the interpretation will be reviewed. Just like the tour we provide today is very different from the tour a decade ago, the current tour will undoubtedly be updated to reflect the changes in scholarship.

We hope you continue to follow our progress and visit Stratford Hall to see for yourself all the work that has been done. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below or on the Facebook Fan Page.