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.