Monday, August 6, 2012

The blog has moved!

The blog has moved! Please check-out our new website to stay updated on all our interpretation, education, preservation, and agriculture projects.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Madeira Wine at Stratford

Stratford Hall is constantly seeking new ways to engage our visitors in the past. Last year, we were approached by Mannie Berk, founder of the Rare Wine Company, with a proposal to create a Stratford Hall branded Madeira. Knowing of the Lees passionate devotion to Madeira, we immediately accepted his kind offer.

On July 20, 2012, will we host a special event to formally introduce our Stratford Hall Special Reserve Madeira. This exciting evening will include a four-course dinner prepared by Stratford Hall’s Executive Chef, Benedicte Merian, and an opportunity to learn about Madeira from Mannie Berk, who is considered the country’s leading authority on this historic wine. Both Berk and his company are recipients of numerous wine industry awards, including being named America’s Best Wine Importer by Food & Wine magazine in 2002. The dinner will also include lively discussion provided by Richard Henry Lee, portrayed by Frank Megargee.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, Madeira was the most revered wine in America, shipped on sailing vessels from the Island of Madeira, off the coast of North Africa. Then, as now, Madeira was produced in a variety of styles ranging from dry wines which can be consumed on their own as an aperitif to sweet wines more usually consumed with dessert. 

The Island of Madeira has a long winemaking history dating back to the Age of Exploration when it was a standard port of call for ships heading to the New World or West Indies. The 18th century was the “golden age” for Madeira. The American colonies, in particular, were enthusiastic customers, consuming as much as a quarter of all wine produced on the island each year. Based upon estate inventories and other documents, the Lees of Stratford were especially large consumers of Madeira.

Stratford Hall Special Reserve is a type of Madeira that was desired by the colonial Virginia elite in the mid-to-late 1700s.  To achieve the flavor pleasing to the palates of the Stratford Lees, Madeira wine journeyed through the tropical climate of the Indies before arriving at Stratford where it aged in casks and bottles in wine cellars.  Like the Lees’ Madeira more than two centuries ago, Stratford Hall Special Reserve is a medium-dry wine of remarkable quality, aged ten or more years, with enormous depth of color in addition to its rich, tangy, and complex flavors.

Seating for the dinner is limited and reservations are required by July 13, 2012. The menu will include: cream of lobster and chestnut paired with Savannah Verdelho Madeira; beef tournedos Rossini with Madeira sauce, vegetable fricassee paired with 2007 Chateau Clos Canon, St. Emilion Premeier Cru; salad and cheese platter paired with Stratford Hall Special Reserve; chocolate mousse cake with crème Anglaise and berries paired with New York Malmsey Madeira, and coffee.

The cost is $140 per person, which includes taxes and gratuity, as well as a ticket to the Stratford Hall Wine Festival on September 22 and 23, 2012. Overnight accommodations at Stratford are also available at the Cheek Guest House or the Astor Guest House for a rate of $160 double occupancy that includes a Saturday brunch in the Dining room as well as tour tickets to the Great House. To make reservations for this special event, please call 804-493-1966 or email If you want to sample the Madeira, but cannot attend the dinner, it is available for purchase in our gift shop.

 - Paul Reber, Executive Director

Thursday, June 21, 2012

It's all in the ceiling...

Who knew a ceiling could cause so much trouble?  Earlier this week we began to install the new plaster cornice (also known as crown moulding) in the Parlor as part of the restoration.  As the plaster contractors proceeded with the installation, it became evident that the ceiling was going to pose a problem for us.  The first issue encountered was a 2 1/2 inch dip in the ceiling at the west wall.  After discussing this issue with all involved parties, we decided to proceed and make it work the best that we could.  As the installation continued, more problem areas became apparent, including a 1 1/2 inch cup at the north wall.  At this point it was decided that we would have to fix the ceiling in order for the cornice to be installed properly and look as it should.

In order to solve the problem of the "wavy" ceiling, a new ceiling will have to be installed in some manner.  During this installation the ceiling will be leveled to the lowest point of the current ceiling.  The current ceiling in the Parlor is a modern ceiling dating to the 1930's restoration. We are currently looking at every option available so that we will have as little impact as possible on the overall height of the ceiling.  As we work towards a solution, every effort is being made to preserve the historical integrity of "Light Horse Harry" Lee's Parlor.  Stay tuned to see how we solve this problem and the how the restoration progresses.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Learning Experience

When I first started working in the Visitor Center I was amazed at how many visitors were descendants of the Lees. We get several folks each month who are somehow related to this great family. Once in a while guests with other ties to Stratford will come to visit.

Richard Mynatt's indentured contract
The story of Richard Mynatt is a great example. Some members of the Mynatt family  came in and told me that their 5th great grandfather was an indentured servant under Thomas Lee, the builder of Stratford, and his son Philip Ludwell Lee. Although I am not intrinsically a history buff, I do enjoy investigations. I began researching the story.

On February 12, 1749, Richard Mynatt, a 20 year old cook, signed an agreement of servitude with Thomas Lee for a period of 4 years at 8 pounds sterling salary per year. He became the head cook at Stratford.

Thomas Lee died soon after he hired Mynatt and his contract was passed on to Philip Ludwell Lee through inheritance.

At the end of the agreed upon term, Richard Mynatt asked for his freedom and salary. Philip Ludwell Lee refused. On July 31, 1754, Richard Mynatt petitioned the court in Westmoreland County, Virginia. The court adjudged him free with allotted wages. He was the first indentured servant in America to take his employer to court and win his case.

In 1754,  Richard Mynatt  moved to Prince William County (Virginia), married, and started a family. He later became a courier for General George Washington during the Revolutionary War. The Mynatt descendants are the rest of the story!

Come find and learn history with me at Stratford Hall.

Thanks to Judy Hynson, Director of Research Library Collections and our Master Archivist, for her help and patience while this old dog learns anew!!

 - John, Visitor Services

Monday, June 11, 2012

Our Sebrights

As an interpreter at Stratford Hall I get asked many question, as you can imagine. There is one question that I am asked every time I work. “Those little chickens are beautiful! What are they?"

Here at Stratford Hall we have two little bantum breed hens (sadly we lost one this spring to old age). They are Golden Sebright Bantams. Their plumage is quite lovely. The feathers are a deep copper color. Each feather is outlined in dark black, called “lacing”. Their legs are grey-blue. 

This breed generally has gentle nature and are curious of their  surroundings. They are very popular among poultry enthusiasts because of these traits.They are easy to keep but can be quite a difficult to breed because they were not designed for meat or egg production. 

They are one of the oldest true bantum breeds The person responsible for designing this ornamental breed is Sir John Sebright of Great Britain. He started developing this breed in the 1800s and it took over thirty years for him to develop them.

When you come to visit Stratford Hall keep an eye out for these tiny little chickens. They are very friendly. They may even greet you with your guide at the Southwest Outbuilding at the beginning of your tour!

- Mary, Historic Interpreter

Thursday, June 7, 2012

We’re Fortunate to have so many Friends

It’s always interesting and gratifying to see the vast geographic area that our donors or Friends of Stratford come from.  You may be surprised to find out we have Friends all around the world.  Currently we have donors from most of the 50 states as well as the Virgin Islands and Guam.  We even have donors from as far away as Germany and Great Britain.         
You might wonder how people from places near and far know about and support Stratford?  As you can imagine, some are originally from Virginia and love and value our history.  Others may be a descendant of the Lees and still others came for a visit and loved the experience they had at Stratford.  History connects people.  The stories of our Friends show how interwoven our connections are and the importance of preserving the amazing history found here at Stratford.   Do you have a story you would like to share of how you became our Friend?  We would love to hear from you.

FOS Tour of the archaeology site
And if you’re not a Friend already, I hope you’ll consider joining us.  Make your own special connection to Stratford Hall and help us widen our ever growing circle of Friends.

So whether you’re our neighbor right here in the Northern Neck or from the far away reaches of the world, all of our Friends are valued and important to us.  You’re helping us preserve Stratford Hall for the next generation of history lovers and we are truly grateful. 

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Summer camps at Stratford

Are you one of 70 million grandparents in the U.S. today?  The average age of first-time grandparents is only 47, old enough to appreciate the rich heritage of our country and young enough to take an active part in the education and cultural enrichment of their grandchildren. This emerging role for grandparents is increasingly significant as parents seem to be working more and have busy schedules. To that end, grandparents throughout the country have found a wonderful way to bond with the younger generation: the history-based summer residential camp programs at Stratford Hall, an 18th century plantation, home of the Lees of Virginia.

Campers get hands-on experiences with an archaeological dig, fossil hunting on the beach and many traditional colonial activities, including, for example, hammering hot iron with the blacksmith, an 18th school lesson, and hoeing Stratford’s tobacco crop. Trays of 18th Century delicacies are carried down the brick walk from the outside kitchen to the Great House dining room to seehich camper can get to the Great House fastest without spilling—all while the cook is harassing them with “You better get movin’, Col. Lee is gettin’ impatient for his dinner.”

The arts have not been forgotten.  Practice on the recorder is enjoyed by all ages.  One 18th century Virginian commented that “there seemed to be tooting coming from every house.”  The harpsichord is the classic instrument of the period, fascinating to play on and to see how it differs from today’s piano. Children may study actual descriptions of early runaway servants and draw posters picturing their interpretation of such descriptions.

Participants in Stratford’s three-day grandparent/grandchild camp relive history. After being inducted into the Virginia Militia and learning to march (are you sure you know your right foot from your left?), campers reenact the  Revolutionary War attack upon Stratford.  In April, 1781, a British landing party rowed ashore, apparently intent on burning buildings there. A small group of local Militiamen, under the leadership of Richard Henry Lee, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, defended the Stratford landing.  The single British casualty was given a solemn burial on the beach.  How can children better come to appreciate a small piece of America’s fight for independence!

At first, campers are startled and puzzled at the shout, “Fire in the henhouse!”  It seems that Henny Penny has been playing with candles again and ignited a (simulated) fire. It’s time to man the bucket brigade, a cooling activity on a warm summer day as water seems to splash everywhere.  Two lines of campers compete to see which can douse the “burning hen house” with the most water. There are, of course, usually some camper comments about fried chicken for dinner.

This 3-day camp experience is not complete without traditional fishing in the millpond, and enjoying the soft, warm sands of Stratford’s pristine beach while searching for Miocene fossils, such as shark’s teeth.  There is free time to hike the nature trails which meander throughout the nearly 2000 acres, or to just relax in the solitude of a “lazy, hazy day of summer.” 

Our campers come from all over the country and leave with last impressions:
“Better organized than any intergenerational that I have attended”
“I’ll be recommending this to many friends”
“Staff overlooked nothing…a delight to be part of this program.”
“Great program! Unique.”
“My granddaughter and I had a wonderful time,lots of bonding, fun and learning together.”
“Captivating, content-full, well paced, a gem of a setting.”
For more information about our Grandparent/Grandchild Summer Camps, please check out our website or call Bill Doerken at (804) 493-8038 (ext. 1026). You can also ask questions below!

 - Bill Doerken, Coordinator of Special Programs

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Summer Plans

What are your plans for the summer? A lot will be going on at Stratford over the next few months because this is the start to our busy season. In additional to all the vacationers and staycationers we see every summer, this year's calendar of events is very full. Here are a few highlights!

We kick off the summer with Lees and Independence on June 2nd. The Lees and Independence Family Fun Festival celebrates the date June 7, 1776, when Richard Henry Lee introduced the resolution for independence to the Continental Congress:
“Resolved, that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”
This resolution led to the writing, and subsequent adoption, of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. The family event is free and includes pony rides, games, historical dramatizations, food, and more.

We will be holding two teacher workshops. Economic Life in Colonial Virginia: Institute for Teachers of U.S. and VA History/Studies, a residential workshop on economic history of Colonial Tidewater Virginia being held July 26-28, is already at capacity. On August 10th, Stratford will be hosting Sprouting for Success: Ag in the Classroom for the second year. This one-day workshop is free, but pre-registration is required. Click on the link for more information.

Stratford’s popular Grandparent/Grandchild Camp will be held three times this summer: June 26-28, July 10-12, and August 7-9. Campers, both old and young, will look for shark teeth fossils, fish, march as the colonial Virginia militia, learn about archaeology, try bricklaying, and bake a pie in the open hearth kitchen.

The University of Mary Washington will be conducting their Archaeology Field School, the gristmill will be open the second Saturday of each month, and restoration work will continue in the Parlor. Keep checking this blog, our Facebook Page, or website to find out more about all our programs and updates on our projects.  We hope you make Stratford part of your summer plans!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Different View of Stratford

What is your favorite photo of Stratford Hall? 

This question came up yesterday when a great photo of the Octagon showed up on the Facebook page. Certainly when you think of Stratford Hall, an image of the Great House comes to mind. No matter the season, the Great House always makes for a beautiful photo, as evidenced on our current Facebook page banner.

Most of the photos you see of the Great House, however, are looking at it straight on from the south side of the house. These photos, while certainly iconic, give us a one dimensional view of the house. Photos taken from a different view, not usually seen, give us a much wider perspective. Like an aerial photo, or perhaps one of my favorites, taken from the top of the chimney towers.

This photo is in our exhibit "On the Way to Stratford."
Historical photos of the Great House can also be very interesting.  In a temporary exhibit currently in our Visitor Center, titled “On the Way to Stratford,” you can see photos of people visiting the Great House dating back to 1897. These photos also give us an additional perspective of how the Great House has changed over time. There is even a place left empty in the exhibit for your photo, so on your next visit to Stratford, be sure to take a photo of you at Stratford Hall and send us a copy.

A view from a nature trail looking out on the mill pond.
But with 1,900 acres, your favorite Stratford photo may not even be of the Great House. Photos of the Miocene era cliffs, farm animals, the beach, gristmill and mill pond, or the many outbuildings like the Octagon may have been the focus of your favorite photo here at Stratford.

So let us know what your favorite image is, Great House or another scene?  And be sure to post your photos of Stratford on our and Facebook pages.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Dining with Fresh Farm Produce

In the early 1930’s Stratford Hall began serving meals to the public on the ground floor of the Great House.  In May 1937 a new Plantation Dining Room was opened adjacent to the Astor Guest House.  Tragically, that structure survived less than a decade and was destroyed by fire in 1944.  The present dining room was completed in 1951, and the porch overlooking the wooded ravine was added in 1957.  It was enlarged 8 years later to its current size.
Stratford Hall Dining Room has recently added fresh organic produce to the Dining Room menu and it's produced locally on an organic farm. Along with fresh produce, many of the old favorites are back by popular demand (crab cakes, ham biscuits and the ham and crabcake platter). We look forward to a very productive year!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Dispatch from the Gate House

In my capacity as Gatekeeper of Stratford Hall, my duties are to help control/monitor access to the property and to direct our guest, visitors, and contractors to their destinations. The Gatekeeper is also the first person to meet and welcome all visitors.  We create the all-important first impression.

For the most part, this is an enjoyable position. I am afforded the opportunity of meeting many very interesting people from locations far and wide. Not only do I have the gratification of assisting our guest in accomplishing the intended purpose of their visit, I also learn many fascinating things from them.

Often times people ask me if the job gets monotonous, out there away from the other buildings and with no one to talk to. My answer is NO! Every day is different. The visitors to Stratford are from all walks of life, ages, and nationalities...each with a different motivation for their visit. 

Perhaps the role I enjoy the most  is answering the numerous questions our valued guests ask. I will never forget one of my earlier experiences in this regard. In the early spring, beautiful fresh blossoms and flowers welcome visitors to Stratford as they approach the front gate. On one occasion, a rather energetic senior citizen inquired of me the name of one of these blossoms. I told her: “ I do not know, but you are about the fourth person to ask.”  She then said: “Well did it ever occur to you to find out?”

This was a good lesson for me.  I did find out that they were Mountain Laurels. From that day on, whenever I am asked a question, I do find the answer.

What is the most frequent question I hear? Well, besides being home to about 40 head of Red Devon Cattle and three horses, Stratford also has several goats.  The majority are very content in the confines of their pen... except one. We affectionately call her Izzie. She is a smaller goat who has a way of crawling beneath the fence in order to graze anywhere she pleases. Izzie always goes home when she is ready, but not before several people stop by and say: “Sir, do you know your goat is loose?”

I am tempted to have a t-shirt made up that reads: "Yes, I know the goat is loose.”

- Larry, Gatekeeper

Thursday, April 26, 2012

We're squirrely at Stratford!

Many visitors that come into the gift shop often wonder why we have squirrel items for sale. The squirrel sitting on a horizontal branch, cracking a nut, is the main element of the Lee family crest, as described in Burke's General Armory, registry of all English armorial bearings, from earliest times, listed at the College of Heralds. Underneath the Lee family crest is the Latin motto: Non Incautus Futuri. This translates to "not unmindful of the future." Squirrels are in a constant state of preparation, often seen running around Stratford collecting food for the winter.

The squirrel motif has been used on many items as a reminder of a time when a family's crest was applied to objects to denote ownership. As you can see from these images, we have the squirrel on a variety of different items for your gift giving (or a fun piece for your home!). Please e-mail Janet Branson if you have any questions about any of our products.

Stop by Stratford Hall to check out all our store products or visit us on our online store.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Stratford Cliffs: Layer cakes of time

Towering over 100 feet about the Potomac River are the famous cliffs of Stratford Hall. Within the deposit that make up the cliffs are the evidence of animals and plants that lived here long before the first hunter walked the shores. For thousands of years most of these remains went unnoticed.

It would not be until the mid 19th century that geologists began to piece together information that would lead to geological principles. Of these principles, the most significant is called superpositioning. This is a geological term applied to the observation that the oldest deposits are at the bottom the youngest are found at the top in a layer cake of time. The Stratford cliffs make up a unique layer cake and are part of the geographic region known as the Virginia Coastal Plain. The Virginia Coastal Plain is part of the much larger Atlantic Coastal Plain.

The specific layers at Stratford Hall are known to paleontologists and geologists as the Miocene Chesapeake Group Formations or Calvert Group. At Stratford Hall, these sediments span a time period from about 16 million years to the present day.

The sediment and silts, which formed the cliffs, are the result of millions of years of erosion and ocean sediment accumulation.
These sediments were deposited in a prehistoric bay known as the Salisbury Embayment. The Salisbury Embayment was an arm of the Atlantic Ocean which covered what is now Delaware, southern and eastern Maryland, the Virginia Peninsula, and parts of southern New Jersey during Tertiary times (about 65 million to 5 million years ago). Sea level throughout most of this period stood several hundred feet higher than at present and deposition of sediments draining off the continent possibly caused the underlying rocks to sink down, creating the embayment. The shore of the embayment lay inland at the present-day fall line in the region.

This bay was a shallow-shelf open marine setting and lagoon environment. Vertebrate assemblages such as rays, sharks,and ocean going crocodiles frequented the bay for food sources. Diverse invertebrate groups colonized the shallow and near shore environments.

Examples of teeth from an extinct sharks
When sea levels fell as the Pleistocene ice ages took hold, the thousands of feet of sediment layers in the Salisbury Embayment were exposed as the Coastal Plain terrains of Delaware, Maryland and eastern Virginia.

The various layers of the Calvert group are seen as bands of various colors rising from the river shoreline. Each color of sediment seen indicates a unique variety of sediments resulting from recurring pulses of marine advances and retreats over the millennia. These pulses were the accumulating deposits of silts, clays, and sands that sealed the remains of the animals and plants. Each of the layers holds a unique groups of fossils.

At Stratford Hall, the oldest sediments are visible at the water line. This is the Calvert formation (16 million years old). The next deposits up about 40 feet are the Choptank formation. The St. Mary’s formation rises above the Choptank. Rising above the St. Mary’s for about another 20 feet, is the Eastover formation of late Miocene age (5 million years old). Above the Eastover is the Yorktown formation of early Pliocene time. (1-3 million years old) The last layers, closest to the top of the cliffs, is the Pleistocene or ice age deposits (1.5 to 12,000 years old). At the very top is what geologists refer to as Holocene deposits. This is the geological epoch which began at the end of the Pleistocene (around 12,000 years ago and continues to the present).

It is not permitted to dig into the cliffs. The dangers are real. The unstable nature of the sediments results in frequent falling sections of cliff, and smaller avalanches are constantly occurring. Beach collecting is permitted in designated areas only.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Still Exciting

Museums often share parts of their collection with other institutions upon request. Of course there are rules and regulations, standards to follow, and logistics to coordinate (shipping, insurance, text panels, etc).This loan agreement process makes exhibitions more exciting for recurring visitors. Plus the institutions involved have the best intention for the selected object to be featured in a special way for a limited time period.
Recently, George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate, Museum and Gardens in Alexandria, Virginia borrowed a copper still from our collection at Stratford Hall to display in a new exhibit within the Donald W. Reynolds Museum Center.

Typically the gourd shaped still, complete with spout and coil, sits on an iron stand in the “outside kitchen” at Stratford Hall. Technically a still is defined as “an apparatus for distilling liquids, such as alcohols, consisting of a vessel in which the substance is vaporized by heat and a cooling device in which vapor is condensed.”

Liquor was, in fact, distilled on the plantation.
It was simply part of life during the 18th century. Crops were grown for the table, livestock raised, and goods produced… be it clothing, furniture, or shoes. Just imagine the possibilities of having a carpenter or blacksmith on site with the skills to custom design interior and exterior features for the property. This was, obviously, long before shopping malls or the Internet! Additionally, the Lees had access to the Potomac River and the world beyond where ships were capable of making deliveries from Europe.

William Bailey, a Pennsylvanian copper smith, likely created this still during the late 18th or early 19th century. We are truly grateful that upon its arrival to Mount Vernon a highly trained Conservator of the 21st century, Katherine Ridgway, performed numerous treatments to better the condition of the still and to preserve it for many years to come.
As you can see below, the still looks fabulous in its prominent display case. I hope you will visit both Stratford Hall and the Distillery exhibit at George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate to make exciting historic comparisons.

For further information on the distillery click this link:
and to learn more about the plantation click here

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Somewhere out there...are letters

One evening in late December, I received a call from my brother….a very excited brother who had just returned from an auction in Urbanna, Virginia. Among his purchases were a pencil drawing of Robert E. Lee and a letter from Ann Hill Carter Lee to her son Sidney Smith Lee. He didn’t pay an exorbitant sum for them and had little competition from other bidders. The reason why? The “letter” was a collection of small rectangular pieces of paper stuffed into a small envelope. He explained that my task, since I worked with old documents, was to piece it back together for him. What are sisters for, anyway?

I had previously seen only two letters written by Ann Carter Lee, wife of Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee and mother of Robert E. Lee. Coincidentally, those letters were also from Ann to her son Smith and were placed on loan to Stratford by Smith Lee’s descendants. Knowing what those letters looked like was very helpful in slowly reassembling the pieces of my brother’s newly purchased fragments.

The letter had split at every fold, but, surprisingly, all of its pieces were in the envelope. We may never know who had saved the letter, but are thankful that its contents are now available to researchers since my brother allowed me to copy and transcribe it along with other letters in our collection.

Ann’s letter was transcribed by library volunteer Maurice Capone and it is very similar in content to her few known letters to Smith, who had embarked upon a career in the U. S. Navy. Evidently, 17-year-old Smith hated writing letters and Ann often used her precarious health (she had tuberculosis) to urge him to do so. Whether or not her imposed “guilt trip” was successful is unknown, but, since few or no letters from Smith survive, Ann’s insistence was probably in vain.

Family news took up a small portion of the letter. Ann’s desire to give her children a good education can be plainly seen—24-year-old Carter was in law school, and 11-year-old Mildred and 15-year-old Robert were both attending classes. Her older daughter Ann Kinloch had been to Philadelphia, getting medical treatment for her arm; although the letter gave a good report on her hand, she eventually had to have part of her arm amputated due to tuberculosis of the bone. Perhaps Ann’s greatest hope for Smith and her other children was for them not to suffer the fate of her former husband, “Light Horse Harry,” who had fallen from the rank of esteemed Revolutionary hero and respected politician to that of an impoverished, broken man. She wished to “hear that all respect & love my Son” and that he “should deserve the esteem of the whole world.”

So…..we never know what letters are still “out there” just waiting to be discovered. Sometimes scraps of paper in an envelope can reveal certain aspects of a family’s dynamics that ultimately influence the course of history. Have you checked your attic lately?

By Judy Hynson, Director of Research & Library Collections

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Decline of Reason?

Working in a history museum the presence of the past is with you every day. There is not much that happens where you are not prompted to think about how it may have been different a century or two ago. So it is with the recent debates over public policy. What seems to be missing is the presence of reason. A principal premise of American society is the capacity of rational minds in a free society to reason. Today this principal has been replaced by the mindless chatter of television hosts, politicians and other assorted talking heads whose only proficiency is to state things as fact that have no connection to reality.

The Lees and their colleagues in the founding generation would be horrified by this turn of events. Reading their extensive correspondence and countless newspaper articles and pamphlets, their use of ancient texts and reason is evident everywhere. In the years before the American Revolution, proponents of American rights conducted a long debate with their opponents about British imperial policy. These debates are worthwhile reading, not just for their content but for the use of reason in making their arguments. Today the legitimacy of reason as a neutral objective faculty has collapsed, replaced by post-modern notion that all ideas are relative and objective reason indefensible.

There are those who argue that places like Stratford Hall and history museums generally are increasingly irrelevant in our modern world. These are the same people who helped create this world of intellectual chaos. Places like Stratford Hall have an obligation to provide a place where our citizens can reflect not just on the past, but the principles which have guided our nation for more than two centuries. One of these surely must be that it took reason to create a nation. It will also take reason to sustain it.

- Paul Reber, Executive Director

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Preservation and Restoration Excitement... No Really...

It's exciting times in the Preservation Department here at Stratford Hall. But lets be serious, when isn't it exciting? The big project I continue to work on is the Parlor restoration. The Parlor is being restored to its ca. 1795 Federal Period, also known as the "Light Horse Harry" Lee period. I described the overall project in a previous blog post which you can find here if you missed it or would like to freshen up your memory. One of the contractors just finished removing the window seats and installing the new paneling in the window embrasures. They also extended the window architraves to the floor. The next step in the restoration is to install the plaster cornice, which we are hoping to begin within the next month or so. I hope to wrap up the restoration of the Parlor sometime in June, then we will turn the space over to the Collections Department so they can refurnish the space.

As sprin
g arrives a little early here at Stratford Hall, I am preparing for the warmer weather. The first thing I did to prepare for spring, with the help of the Collections Department, was to install the bird nets on the doors of the outbuildings. We install these nets to keep the pesky barn swallows out of the historic buildings but still allow our visitors access. You can read more about our issues with these birds here.

Also as spring arrives the department is currently looking for its annual summer intern. So far we have a great applicant pool and it will soon be time to make the hard decision of who gets to spend 10 fun-filled weeks at Stratford Hall. If you are interested in knowing more about our internships the posting can be found on our website.

I am also gearing up to begin working on the exterior of some of the historic structures again. This work will consist of wrapping up the Slave Quarter restoration and continuing to work on the Great House windows. I am sure I will be getting into some more projects as the season progresses, so check back.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Flip-flops and flower gardens

March has arrived and we spent time earlier this month removing the wintertime scenarios from the Great House.  If you came to see us for our Christmastide program or any time over the holiday season, you saw the main house set up for a holiday party and displaying scenes of everyday wintertime life.  Silhouette-cutting in the Dining Room Closet and fresh laundry arriving from the Wash House for the hired Schoolmaster [above].

We've blogged about setting up the Great House for its wintertime scenarios  before (and its summertime scenarios and even fall ones too).  But what about springtime?  It is difficult (and incredibly time-consuming) to continually think of new ideas for room displays in the Historic Area.  So much planning goes into the new room projects (like the Parlor project that is now in its restoration and furnishing research phase) and changing them seasonally can be a challenge.

But just like our own houses, the residents of Stratford used their domestic spaces differently and changed things around as the weather changed.  I'm currently writing this blog post in my own home office, with the window thrown open and birds chirping outside.  I have flip-flops on my feet yet am bundled into a hoodie sweatshirt.  The heat has been turned off and the air has a springtime morning chill that is quite delicious.  My personal plans this time of year revolve around organizing and deep cleaning the house, as well as making plans for the vegetable and flower gardens.  English peas are one of my favorites.

Seasonality is always in the back of my mind when I plan scenarios in the Great House and Kitchen.  What foods are in season?  Would they have been using the fireplaces for warmth?  Would windows have been open for fresh breezes?  What little changes are being made (bed coverings switching from heavy to light, for instance)?  All adding up to bring a sense of real life to these historic spaces.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Update from Interpretation and Education

This past week we saw snow and temperatures in the 70s...spring is here at last! Stratford Hall is emerging from our winter season and gearing up for the spring. School trip season is not quite here, but our first school is scheduled be here at the end of the month. In the next couple weeks we will be reviewing program station content, checking on supplies, and cleaning the education spaces.

Public Events Manager Jon Bachman has been putting the finishing touches on our 2012 event calendar. Stratford Hall has already held four programs: Birding at Stratford: Left Out In the Cold, Robert E. Lee's Birthday, Reading Lee with Elizabeth Brown Pryor, and Reflections on Black History: Telling One Story. We have over twenty more programs on the schedule this year! The next program is Growing up Female in the 18th century. Many of our programs are also now free for Friends of Stratford members.

This winter also
provided the opportunity to visit other museums for research. Previous blog posts highlighted our trip to Montpelier and Washington, DC. Four members of the staff also recently visited Tryon Palace in New Bern, NC. This two day trip included a visit to their historic site, tour of the North Carolina History Center, and meetings with their staff. The hands-on exhibits provided the opportunity for some fun and competition. The ship was sailed somewhat successfully, ingredients located in the kitchen without angering the cook (see kitchen above), turpentine produced, and quilt created.These trips are extremely valuable as we start to think about what we would like to do as we move forward with our plans.

Check back every Thursday to learn more about what is going on at Stratford Hall. We will be having posts about preservation, the collections, programs, events in the Dining Room, the Gift Shop, and so much more.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Staff trip to DC

As we mentioned in our blog post a couple weeks ago, Stratford Hall staff will often take trips to other museums and historic sites in the winter (when visitation is low). This week, Executive Director Paul Reber, Curator Gretchen Goodell, and Director of Interpretation & Education Abigail Newkirk spent time exploring three very different museums in Washington, DC.

The first stop was the
International Spy Museum. While this museum covers a different subject, it is a extremely popular destination and incorporates a lot of interactives into the exhibits. Dan Treado (Exhibitions Producti
on Manager) walked us through the exhibits and explained some of the ideas for the future.

The second stop was the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. We really wanted to check out the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins. This exhibit had numerous movies, touchscreens, and objects that can be touched by the visitor. One thing we really wanted to check out was MEanderthal - a computer station that morphs your image into a neanderthal. One of our photos is here and you can try it for yourself using a smartphone.

The final stop was the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. There were two exhibits that we wanted to see here: The First Ladies and Slavery at Jefferson's Monticello: Paradox of Liberty. You should see the puzzled looks from other visitors we get while crouching down to examine the type of lighting in a museum case or evaluating how easily technicians would be able to access the collection for conservation.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Field trips are not just for school children

Visiting other historic house museums is a very important part of staff training. Learning about what has (or has not) worked at other museums helps us develop our own skills and inspires new ideas.

This week the interpretive staff visited James Madison's Montpelier. Our visit stared with a guided tour of the Treasures of Montpelier exhibit with Carole, our fantastic guide, and a screening of the introductory movie. Carole then took us through the first and second floors of Montpelier.

After our tour we returned to the Visitor Center for lunch. We were joined by members of the interpretation and education departments for a question and answer session. For the guides, this was the highlight of the trip. The conversation ranged from the interpreter dress code to what to do when school buses arrive late.

Everyone was let loose for the final hour to explore whatever interested them. Some chose to visit the cemetery, while other walked to the Archaeology Lab. A few decided to check out the outbuildings and explore the gardens.

We all love Stratford, but sometimes it is nice to get out and be a visitor. We are very lucky because there are no shortage of amazing places to visit in Virginia!

Friday, January 13, 2012

New faces on the farm

Today Stratford Hall welcomed the first of the Red Devons. We first mentioned this project in a blog about a year ago. You can read it here.

This is a breed that would have been found at Stratford in the 18th century. Through a partnership with Lakota Farms, we are now able to give our visitors a chance to see these beautiful animals and learn more about Stratford's agricultural heritage.

We will keep updating you and sharing images as the herd acclimates to their new home.

Friday, January 6, 2012

One Slave's Story

It all began with an article in the Detroit Free Press|mostpopular|text|FRONTPAGE

Discovery of a tombstone bearing the name Elizabeth Lee in a Canadian cemetery and related family oral history have prompted her descendants to claim kinship with Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee, father of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Henry Lee, according to Elizabeth Lee’s descendant, Elise Harding-Davis, is believed to have fathered a slave, Kizzie, who was the mother of Elizabeth’s husband, Ludwell Lee.

Henry Lee, a former Revolutionary War hero, moved to Stratford in 1782 after marrying his cousin Matilda, eldest daughter of Philip Ludwell Lee. Matilda died in 1790 and Henry, who had been elected Governor of Virginia, married Ann Hill Carter in 1793. Henry and Ann’s last child to be born at Stratford was Robert E. Lee. Henry’s financial difficulties, stints in debtor’s prisons, and his son Henry’s claim on the Stratford estate hastened the family’s departure from Stratford to Alexandria in the winter of 1810-11.

Tracing the history of African Americans at Stratford has always been challenging. Slave names gleaned from court records and Lee family documents comprise most of the information that we know about Stratford’s historic slave community. Probate inventories of the first two Lee owners of Stratford, in 1758 and 1776, list the names of their slaves along with other property. An extensive slave list was made in 1782 when Philip Ludwell Lee’s estate was divided between his widow Elizabeth and two daughters, Matilda and Flora (who married her cousin Ludwell Lee, son of Richard Henry Lee). [For further information, see Jeanne Calhoun’s research report, “The African-American Experience at Stratford: 1782” at ] Philip’s estate slave list included names, ages, value, and sometimes occupations of the 137 slaves living on Stratford and two outlying farms. Also, Henry Lee inherited some slaves from other Lees, and these estate divisions are recorded in the Westmoreland County courthouse. Some of these slaves came to live at Stratford. Unfortunately, only a few of these documents indicate family units that existed, and none of them record any surnames. Only one African American family—the Payne family—has been identified as having once been a part of the plantation’s slave population.

Searching for Kizzie:

None of the slaves in the various inventories and lists mentioned above had the name “Kizzie.” However, court clerks and persons entrusted by estate administrators and county courts to make inventories often resort to creative spellings of names in official records. The two Lee probate inventories do not list any slave with a name that could possibly be construed as being Kizzie. In the April 1782 estate division of slaves, there were two girls allotted to Matilda and Flora with names beginning with a “K.” Those names, as far as I can tell, are “Keavy” (age 5) and “Kenny” (age 3). These slaves were born during the American Revolution while Henry Lee was leading his cavalry and before he courted Matilda and married her in 1782.

More promising is a list of slaves that Henry Lee inherited by will from the estate of John Lee of Cabin Point. John Lee’s widow, who had life interest in his estate and slaves, died childless in 1802. Several Lee nephews, including Henry Lee and Richard Bland Lee, received equal portions of the estate, including slaves living there, in 1803. Henry Lee’s 28 inherited slaves included “Kesey” (age 5). The Westmoreland County court records (Book #8, p. 213) show that the same girl slave was listed as “Keseah” in John Lee’s probate inventory.* Could this child, born circa 1798, be the Kizzie who had her own child Ludwell by age 20 in 1818?

If so, Kesey, as one of the Cabin Point slaves, would have led a very precarious childhood. Henry Lee, in perpetual debt, mortaged his Cabin Point inheritance (to Bushrod Washington) in 1798…even before he officially inherited it. A long legal battle with Thomas Rowand over the ownership of Cabin Point resulted in Lee’s eventual loss of the property. Court documents indicate that Lee’s inherited Cabin Point slaves were brought to Stratford after the 1803 John Lee estate division. Henry Lee sold the slaves from Cabin Point to his brother Richard Bland Lee for $2,000 credit against his debt in 1807; Richard Bland Lee hired out the Cabin Point slaves beginning January 1808. However, records of the transaction do not list Kesey as one of those slaves. Nor is she listed when Richard Bland Lee sold the Cabin Point slaves to Henry Lee, Jr. in January 1810. Where was Kesey after 1803?

In 1810, the Federal Census shows that there were only 32 slaves over age 12 at Stratford, a number that had been steadily decreasing as Henry and Ann Lee began selling off acreage not included in the deed of trust to his children by his first wife Matilda. Court records show that many of Henry’s slaves were taken as collateral by persons to whom he owed money, and much of Henry’s time during 1809-1810 was spent in debtor’s prisons in both Westmoreland and Spotsylvania Counties. Henry Lee’s personal property tax return for 1810 showed that he owned no slaves by the end of the year. If Kesey had remained at Stratford after 1803, where was the twelve-year-old girl in 1810? If Henry had given his remaining slaves to his son Henry, Jr., who assumed management of Stratford in 1810, Kesey would probably not have remained at Stratford much longer. Henry Lee, Jr.‘s slave population dwindled to only 4 slaves over age 12 by 1815. Interpreting possible scenarios for Kesey’s fate is tempting, but the sad fact is that Kesey seems to virtually disappear from the historical record after 1803.

It’s possible that combing through Westmoreland County court records might produce some evidence for Kesey’s whereabouts after 1803, but that research project would require a lengthy time investment. And what if Kesey is not Kizzie?

What’s in a name?…..

Ludwell was a surname associated with the Lee family since Thomas Lee’s marriage to Hannah Ludwell in the 1720s. Thomas Lee passed the Ludwell name to two of his sons, and four of Thomas’s sons (one married a Ludwell cousin) passed the name to their sons. Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee named one of his sons Philip Ludwell. Thomas Ludwell , brother of the Philip Ludwell who was agent for the Northern Neck Proprietary, also patented land near the early Lees in Westmoreland County. When the estate of Squire Richard Lee of Lee Hall (just downriver from Cabin Point) was inventoried in 1798, the inventory listed a slave named Ludwell, who was sold to Squire Richard’s nephew, Richard Bland Lee—the same Lee who purchased the Cabin Point slaves. While slaves were often given a diminutive of the names frequently used by their owner’s family, i. e., Harry for Henry, a family name was sometimes used for slaves when it was not used for a member of the slaveowner’s household. While Ludwell may be an unusual name in Canada, it certainly is not unusual in Virginia and elsewhere. Genealogical inquiries from unrelated Lee families with ancestors bearing the names Richard Henry, Robert E., Ludwell and Lightfoot are constant reminders that not everyone who shares a common family name is related. But, combined with an oral history tradition, the Ludwell name link is tantalizing.

Oral histories are important, particularly to black families who are seeking to trace their history in a world where little documentation survives. We respect the oral tradition of passing along information from one generation to the next and have our own oral history project associated with Stratford and its restoration. The Payne family’s history is entwined with that of the Lees and subsequent owners of Stratford, and new findings are shared between the Paynes and the research department here. While oral history can be helpful in directing ancestor searches, it does not take the place of historic documentation. By itself, oral history often leaves many questions unanswered, but it is invaluable as an impetus to document the oral history tradition. We hope that the descendants of Kizzie will continue their quest to discover unknown family names and relationships. Maybe their journey will indeed lead to the Lees of Stratford.

*Other transcribers have read the name as “Kissey” and “Kesiah.”