Archive for the ‘18th century America’ Category

Gentle Reader,

This week marks the July 4th holiday in the U.S., which means family gatherings, outdoor picnics, firework celebrations, and, most of all, ice cream! This delicious treat became more and more common at the turn of the 19th century when the method of transporting and storing great big blocks of ice over long distances became economically feasible. 

On July 1, 1808, Jane Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra from Godmersham:

But in the meantime for Elegance & Ease & Luxury . . . I shall eat Ice & drink French wine, & be above Vulgar Economy.

This statement reveals a number of  interesting details about her stay at her rich brother’s (Edward’s) mansion:

  • Ice cream was expensive (vulgar economy). We know our Miss Jane counted her pennies and did not live a life of extravagance, thus her tart observation.
  • Edward spared no expenses in giving his family this luxurious dessert.
  • Treating guests to ices in July during an era without electricity meant that Edward’s estate must have had an ice house to keep the ice frozen.

Georgian ices had to be served immediately before they melted. Image by Vic Sanborn: Hampton Mansion

The ice used for Edward’s ices most likely came via a variety of routes – local frozen ponds, rivers, or lakes in winter, or enormous blocks harvested in Norway or Canada, which were then shipped to the UK and transported by barge up canals to their final destinations – The Sweet Things in Life, Number One London Net.


Mound of the ice house on the grounds of Hampton Mansion. Image@Vic Sanborn

There were many forms of ice houses and ways to keep ice frozen, such as in the one I described in a previous post, 1790 Ice House, Hampton Mansion, and the one at Tapeley Park (see image below). Ice houses provided a dark, cool spot that preserved enough of the precious commodity to last until the next frost or ice block delivery.


The 18th century ice house at Tapeley Park, U.K. is above ground. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Unlike modern-day methods of home ice-cream making … the Georgian method of creating a frozen sweet treat was so effective that it could turn liquid solid within 45 minutes. The secret to this 21st-century trouncing wizardry? Two buckets, some ice and a bit of salt. – Would You Eat Ice Cream From 300 Years Ago?, The Telegraph, Alexi Duggin, 2015

After chopping and shaving huge blocks of ice, making ice cream was rather simple:  Use a recipe you love. Fill a bucket with ice. Add ice cream ingredient to a second, smaller bucket and place it inside the larger bucket. Add salt to the ice, and stir regularly. Voila! Liquid is turned solid. Serve immediately before your creation melts.

When I was in my 20’s, my then husband and I used an old-fashioned ice-maker to make the most delicious peach ice cream with the fruit in season. Our ice cream took longer to make, simply because we used more sugar than the Georgian recipes. We cranked and cranked that ice seemingly forever, but it was worth the trouble. When we had company, there was never enough to go around.

Recalling how hot summers were without air conditioning, one can only imagine how refreshing it must have felt to eat something ice cold on a summer’s day in an era with no electricity and when people wore layers and layers of clothing.


uc004810.jpg_TJ Recipe hands

Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten recipe for making vanilla ice cream @ Open Culture.

According to Monticello.org, ice cream began appearing in French cookbooks starting in the late 17th century. 

There “are accounts of ice cream being served in the American colonies as early as 1744.” Jefferson likely tasted his fair share of the dessert while living in France (1784-1789), and it would continue to be served at Monticello upon his return. Open Culture: Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten vanilla ice cream recipe 

Mr. Jefferson’s recipe is a tad hard to read, so I searched for one in an early cookery book and found one from the 1733 edition of Mrs. Mary Eale’s Receipts. It offers this fine recipe, which requires from 16 -18 lbs of ice to be chopped:

To ice CREAM.
Take Tin Ice-Pots, fill them with any Sort of Cream you like, either plain or sweeten’d, or Fruit in it; shut your Pots very close; to six Pots you must allow eighteen or twenty Pound of Ice, breaking the Ice very small; there will be some great Pieces, which lay at the Bottom and Top: You must have a Pail, and lay some Straw at the Bottom; then lay in your Ice, and put in amongst it a Pound of Bay-Salt; set in your Pots of Cream, and lay Ice and Salt between every Pot, that they may not touch; but the Ice must lie round them on every Side; lay a good deal of Ice on the Top, cover the Pail with Straw, set it in a Cellar where no Sun or Light comes, it will be froze in four Hours, but it may stand longer; than take it out just as you use it; hold it in your Hand and it will slip out. When you wou’d freeze any Sort of Fruit, either Cherries, Rasberries, Currants, or Strawberries, fill your Tin-Pots with the Fruit, but as hollow as you can; put to them Lemmonade, made with Spring-Water and Lemmon-Juice sweeten’d; put enough in the Pots to make the Fruit hang together, and put them in Ice as you do Cream


Tomorrow, on July 4th, you can be sure I’ll celebrate with a delicious bowl of ice cream. My favorite is still peach ice cream, followed by vanilla, and peppermint in the winter.

Happy holiday, all! Let me know which flavors you prefer and if you’ve ever hand-cranked your own ices.  Vic

More resources: 


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Inquiring readers, Tony Grant from London Calling has contributed yet another wonderful article. Inspired by my visit to Williamsburg a few weeks ago, he decided to research some of the buildings in more depth.

The Sir Christopher Wren building at the William and Mary College in Virginia is the oldest academic building in the United States. It was built between 1695 and 1700. However its origins began long before that and a long and tortuous path was followed before the construction of the college could be  begun.

1700s view of William & Mary college with Wren building. @All Posters. Click on image to go to the site.

1700s view of William & Mary college with Wren building. @All Posters. Click on image to go to the site.

In 1618 The Virginia Company of London ordered the construction of a university at Henrico, a few miles south of the present day city of Richmond. By 1619 Sir Edwyn Sandys the treasurer of The Virginia Company reported that £1,500 had been collected and also that every bishop in England had been asked to collect money from their parishioners for the construction of the university. In July 1619, workmen were sent  from England to construct the university. In 1622 an Indian uprising destroyed Henrico. In 1624 Virginia became a Royal Colony and the licence of The Virginia Company was revoked. This removed the charter allowing the building of the university. In 1661 The General Assembly authorised the purchase of land for the building of a college. Nothing happened until 1690 when the Church of England clergy in Virginia put forward propositions for the construction of a college. The reverend James Blair was sent to England in 1691 to petition the new King and Queen, Willam and Mary, to grant a charter to establish a college. The King provided £1,985 14s 10d for the construction of a college to be named William and Mary. There was also a 1d tax placed on all tobacco sold to other countries apart from Britain to raise money. In 1693 a tract of land was purchased for £170 from Captain Thomas Ballard. In May 1694 The Royal College of Arms, which is situated beside St Paul’s Cathedral in the City of London, created a coat of arms for the college. In 1695 the first bricks were laid of the foundation of the college.

Sir Christopher Wren

Sir Christopher Wren

This original building of the college is thought to have been designed by Sir Christopher Wren. There is no documentary evidence to prove this but there are some arguments in favour of Wren being the architect. Wren was the King’s chief architect and William and Mary authorised the construction of the college. The Church of England used Wren as their chief architect in London and it was the Church of England ministers in Virginia who instigated the building of the college. Wren was also responsible for many other important buildings throughout Britain. Wren was the architect who virtually rebuilt London after the Great Fire in 1666.

Detail of a Wren window

Detail of a Wren window

Sir Christopher Wren was a scientist and mathematician and became one of England’s most famous architects. He was responsible for designing and building over fifty London churches and he was the builder of St Paul’s cathedral in the city. He was born on October 20th 1632 in East Knoyle, a village in Wiltshire in Southern England. His father was the local rector. His father later moved to Windsor and Christopher went to Westminster School, situated next to Westminster Abbey and then went on to Oxford University. He had a talent for mathematics and also inventing things. In 1657 Wren was appointed as the professor of astronomy at Gresham College in London and four years later he became the professor of astronomy at Oxford.

he Royal College of Arms next to St Pauls where the coat of arms for William and Mary College was created. Image @Tony Grant

The Royal College of Arms next to St Pauls where the coat of arms for the College of William and Mary was created. Image @Tony Grant

In 1662 he was one of the founding members of The Royal Society along with other great mathematicians and scientists. From his interest in physics and mathematics he developed an interest in architecture. In 1664 and 1665 he was commissioned to build the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford and also the chapel of Pembroke College Cambridge. Architecture then became his main interest. He visited Paris and became interested in the baroque style. In 1666 The Great Fire of London destroyed much of the old city. This provided a great opportunity for Wren. He drew up designs for a grand new city. However, many of his ideas did not come to fruition because the owners of different parcels of land, in the city, did not want to sell. Wren was able, though, to design fifty-one churches and St Paul’s Cathedral.

Grinling Gibbons

Grinling Gibbons

Returning to the possibility of Wren designing the William and Mary College in Virginia, it is interesting to compare Wren’s known buildings with the college to see what similarities in style there might be. I referred to the efforts to raise the finances to build the college and maybe there was a difficulty here. When you compare what Wren built here in England with William and Mary College there are many discrepancies. William and Mary College looks to be a very downmarket version of Wren’s classic buildings.

Wren Building. @William & Mary's website. Click on image to see the source.

Wren Building. @William & Mary’s website. Click on image to see the source.

There are some similarities in design and proportion though. Whoever did design William and Mary College could at least have had Wren as an inspiration. Wren worked closely with designers such as Grindling Gibbons, the wood carver and John Groves, the plasterer.

Carving design by Grinling Gibbons

Carving design by Grinling Gibbons

They both created the most ornate ceilings, wood panelling and facia stone carvings on Wrens buildings. These people were the most prominent and influential designers of their day. They would have charged a premium price for their talents and skills.From the pictures of William and Mary College these features are not present.

Details of wood work by Grinling Gibbons

Details of wood work by Grinling Gibbons

William and Mary, who the college is named after, provide an insight into the turbulent history after the even more turbulent times of the English Civil War.

William Henry Stuart was born on November 14th 1650 in the Hague in the Netherlands. He was the son of William II of Orange. In 1672 William was appointed Stadholder(chief magistrate)and captain general of the Dutch forces  to resist a French invasion of the Netherlands. In 1677 he married his cousin Mary, the eldest daughter of James, Duke of York who became James II of England. It was a diplomatic and politically inspired marriage intending to repair the rift between England and the Netherlands after the Anglo Dutch Wars. James II was a very unpopular monarch, not least because he was a catholic. The English Parliament tried to oppose James and wanted to reduce his powers. They secretly invited William and Mary to come to England and rule as joint monarchs. William landed at Torbay on 5th November 1688, a very nice Devon coastal resort these days, with an army of 14,000 troops. With local support this increased to 20,000 men. They advanced on London. This was called the Glorious Revolution. James fled to France and William and Mary were crowned as William III and Mary II. Parliament then passed the Bill of Rights which prevented a catholic taking the throne again and parliament also limited the powers of the monarch.

William and Mary

William and Mary

William and Mary did not like each other. William had a dour personality. He was asthmatic, twelve years older and several inches shorter than Mary and he was a homosexual by nature.

Sir Christopher Wren's addition to Hampton Court

Christopher Wren facade

If ever you visit Hampton Court you can walk around the 17th century part of the palace behind the old Tudor part which was designed and built by Sir Christopher Wren as a present for William and Mary. It was  also intended as an enticement to bring William to England as our monarch. William and Mary liked Hampton Court and spent a lot of time there.

Visitors today can process through all the rooms of state. A palace was designed to a specific plan. The first rooms you enter were waiting rooms. Ambassadors from other countries would wait until ushered into the next set of rooms to have an audience with the King. Rooms following on from that would be for the Kings own ministers. Following on to the next set of rooms, the greatest of the aristocracy and personal friends of the King would be admitted. As you process through the rooms further only the monarchs most intimate friends, advisors and family would be permitted.

Baroque interior of the King's apartments, Hampton Court. Click on image for source.

Baroque interior of the King’s apartments, Hampton Court. Click on image for source.

Finally you reach the Kings own personal rooms and, lastly, after all the grand state rooms, a small bedroom, lavishly decorated but very small, almost a closet, the kings own sleeping chamber. It is interesting to note that the room above the king’s bedroom was the room of his own personal manservant who was the only one who had access to the King in the night. His manservant could enter by way of a narrow staircase, which apparently, he often did. We can only surmise!

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My short visit to Williamsburg resulted in a lot of pix and short videos. For those who have never visited Colonial Williamsburg, this renovated Virginia city evokes the 18th century just prior to the American Revolution. I visited on a glorious April day, just when the shops were about to close, and saw workers dressed in Colonial garb ending their day and closing up shop. I witnessed a juxtaposition of old/new, with modern-day people re-enacting chores and professions as if they lived during Thomas Jefferson’s and Benjamin Franklin’s time. This very short 18-second clip shows a female silversmith apprentice. My camera panned to her shoes, which she admitted were quite worn, perhaps more than was authentic!

From 1699-1780 there were 15, possibly 16, silversmiths in Williamsburg. There was a strong preference among wealthy planters for importing large silverware from London. – Silversmith

I walked further down the street and saw this shopkeeper locking up the Prentis and walking home.  Prentis shops in and around the historic section sell hand crafted goods made in the traditional way. Other than the absence of horses and carts, the scene could have been lifted straight out of the 18th Century.

This clickable map shows what a pitifully small section I walked (from the Capitol to Botetourt street and the two parallel streets to the Duke of Gloucester Street). I have seen most of Williamsburg over the years, for I celebrated one of my wedding anniversaries in this city and got to explore it quite a bit then.

Workers near the tavern

Workers in back of Shields Tavern

I concentrated on walking in portions of Williamsburg that I had not much explored before, which was the section closest to the Capitol.

Sign of the furniture maker

Sign of the cabinet maker

Many of the walkways are covered by either gravel or crushed oyster shells, a common commodity in Virginia’s tidewater area.

The furniture maker's workshop

The cabinet maker’s workshop

The cabinet maker is situated on Nicholson Street, which is parallel to the main drag, the Duke of Gloucester Street, where the Barber and Peruke Maker’s shop can be found.

Barber and Peruke Maker

Barber and Peruke Maker

You can see images of the shop interiors if you click on the tour and find the shop you are interested in.
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A peruke is a periwig, popular with men during the 18th and 19th centuries.
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Here is the official Williamsburg link to the Barber and Peruke Maker

Working gent

Working gent

While I met him on the porch of the Barber and Peruke Maker, this gentleman was simply making a delivery and did not work there.

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This building was quite new to me. No wonder, since it was reconstructed a mere 4-5 years ago. It has been at least 8 years since I last wandered around the historic district.

Chatting outside the coffee house

Chatting outside the coffee house

I loved this man’s pose.

Outside the milliner's shop

Outside the milliner’s shop

The milliner’s hats can be purchased at the store or at a stall in the market place.

Inside the milliner's shop

Inside the milliner’s shop

One needs to purchase a series of tickets before entering a shop. Since I had not done so, I could only peek through the windows (made with hand blown glass). Thus the rather fuzzy image of the shop keeper tidying up before closing the store.

Chatting to tourists about life as a black man in Colonial Virginia

Chatting to tourists about life as a black man in Colonial Virginia

All the workers in Williamsburg are willing to chat with tourists. I took this image when this man was in deep discussion with someone, who was peppering him with questions. I admired his patience.

A comely maid walks home after a long day.

A comely maid walks home after a long day.

The sun shone through the trees on what I consider a perfect spring evening. In a few short weeks, hot humid days will descend upon Virginia.

All the staff are friendly and willing to pose

All the staff are friendly and willing to pose

At the end of a long day, the workers returning to their real 21st century lives walk through a quiet town towards their parked cars. The following video captures only the sound of the birds and breezes. The loudest music comes from the male cardinal who, this time of year, is quite loud in claiming his territory. You  can also hear the phoebe. The sheep are Leicester long haired sheep.

Every day the sound of fifes and drums pierce the air. I had wondered where all the visitors had gone. Why, to watch the marching band and to walk with them!

Colonial Williamsburg’s field musicians are drawn from a waiting list of young community applicants. Boys and girls begin their education in military music at age 10 and practice weekly for the next eight years, until after they have graduated from high school. These young people talk with the public about the role of music in the 18th-century military. They teach younger members the music and history lessons needed to continue the tradition of the field musicians. – About the Fives and Drums

If you look closely at this video you will see that the kids do not break formation, even though they are walking over horse droppings. Where are the street sweepers when you need them! (The street sweeper below is lamenting the advent of the machine!)

street sweeper and machine

Note to readers: although the era so dramatically demonstrated at Williamsburg is from the 18th century through 1776, the customs and costumes would have been familiar to Jane Austen’s parents at the time of her birth. One can easily imagine Reverend Austen and his wife Cassandra wearing similar clothes as they raised their growing family in Steventon.  Their parsonage had a cow (and a pig and chickens, no doubt), a well and kitchen garden, and the means to make cream and butter, wines and preserves, and other household goods that are so well demonstrated in Williamsburg!

My other Williamsburg posts:

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Guides in front of the Governor's Palace, Williamsburg

Guides in front of the Governor’s Palace, Williamsburg

My very short visit to Colonial Williamsburg this week provided me with an immersion in 18th century Colonial life. The time frame captured by this historic city is 1760-1776. The costumes worn by the guides would have been similar to the dress worn by Jane Austen’s parents around the time of her birth. The Capitol building (rebuilt 1934) is a site of historic events, including Thomas Jefferson’s first attempt at a bill for religious freedom. Today, immigrants are naturalized here in a ceremony held once a year.

Walking towards the Capitol building in Williamsburg, I met four guides, three women and a man, dressed in Colonial costume. All graciously posed for my camera (see 21-second video above), turning and posing to show their mob caps, bonnets, and aprons, and the construction details of their dress. The young lady who wore her apron up explained that she had not been taught to tuck it up, and that she did it naturally. This made sense, as there are many images from the past that show women wearing their aprons in this way, which allowed them to carry items inside the tucked section.

This 6-second video is of the Capitol.

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After a meeting in Williamsburg today, I stayed to wander the streets of this restored colonial city as the sun sank. It was a beautiful evening. The tourists were thinning and I wandered in areas without car or bus traffic. I was struck by the natural sounds – birds singing, insects buzzing, water gurgling in a stream, the fifes and drums of a marching band, and a horse clopping along a gravel road. Except for the runner walking, I was transported back in time. Here’s the first video of my walk. More to come later.

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