Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Living in an 18th century town...a historical novelist's dream

The Barker House, 1775
Two years ago, we moved from the relative noise and bustle of Virginia Beach, Virginia to the peaceful quiet of Edenton, North Carolina. How amazing it is to walk these streets and see homes built in the 1700s still occupied today, not as roped off museum pieces or reproductions but as living breathing examples of 18th century life. As a matter of fact, it was recently discovered that the oldest known house in the state of North Carolina (circa 1712) was hiding beneath a veneer of asbestos shingles on one of the town streets. Our
The Cupola House, 1757
own little cottage doesn't go back that far but even at its "youthful" age of 114, it carries a spirit of history, charm, and continuity not found in contemporary housing. As a writer of historical fiction, it's like waking each day inside a dream, inspiration singing from every corner of the town. I tell our out-of-town friends we are the only town I know with its own soundtrack. Several times each day, the carillon of First Baptist Church rings out lovely melodies of hymns and classical music wafting on the light breezes of Edenton Bay.

The West Customs House, 1772
Commemorative Teapot and a Satirical Drawing of the
1774 Edenton Tea Party from a London newspaper, 1775
Edenton was officially incorporated as a town in 1712. Its name changed four times over its first ten years: The Towne on Queen Anne's Creek, Ye Towne on Mattercommack Creek, The Port of Roanoke, and finally ending as Edenton when named for Governor Charles Eden upon his death in 1722. In the 1770s,  

Edenton was at the forefront of protests against unfair taxing by England. On October 25, 1774, the first ever organized political action by American women, the Edenton Tea Party, occurred when fifty-one ladies of the town met at the home of Elizabeth King and signed a resolution to no longer drink tea or purchase English made cloth
until the tax acts were repealed. In March, 1775, a very unflattering
political cartoon appeared in a London newspaper meant to embarrass and degrade the ladies' efforts.
The Joseph Hewes House, 1765

Edenton is filled to the brim with historical homes and buildings built from the 18th to the 20th centuries but I will focus today on those of the 1700s. I am including photographs I shot this week of just a few of those wonderful structures, all of which are private residences with the exception of the Chowan County Courthouse and the Barker and Cupola Houses.

For more information see:
Chowan County Courthouse, 1767

The Bennett House, 1780
The Skinner-Paxton House, 1798
The Charlton House, 1765
The Author's Home, Buttercup Cottage, 1900

Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now! 


(All photographs in today's post taken by Kathryn Louise Wood.)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

When is a Shrub, not a Bush?...when it's a tasty 18th century strawberry concoction

Strawberries Picked by Author and her Mother, by KLWood (2014)
Here in coastal North Carolina, May is prime strawberry-picking time and my ninety-year-old mother never misses the chance to pick some herself. She is visiting with us this week so it was the perfect excuse (who really needs an excuse, anyway!) to grab some buckets and head for a pick-your-own strawberry farm. Past fields of beautiful white and purple blooming clary sage and the sunshine gold of rape fields, we headed for Triple B Farms, about seventeen miles north of
Clary Sage, by KLWood (2014)
Edenton. Rape, from which canola oil is derived, and clary sage, which is used in the cosmetics and perfume industries, are relatively new cash crops for this part of North Carolina, filling some of the fields used to raise tobacco in a bygone era. Tobacco still grows here but, oh, what a lovely substitute are these flowering newcomers!

Rape Flowers, by KLWood (2014)
While preparing our strawberry shortcakes, I wondered how our 18th century ancestors used these luscious, ruby berries. I ran across an intriguing process, popular in the 1700s, that produced something called a "shrub," (from the Arabic word, sharab, meaning "to drink,") also known as a "drinking vinegar." Without modern refrigeration, vinegar was often used as a means of preserving foods and this concoction took full advantage of the tangy sweet and sour marriage of vinegar and berries. My research also informed me that shrubs have recently regained popularity and used as an ingredient in making trendy cocktails. 18th century shrubs were made in both alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions. So, for your drinking pleasure, I happily present you with a recipe for an 18th century Strawberry Shrub adapted from a recipe by Ellen Jackson at

Strawberry Shrub, photo from:

Strawberry Shrub

3 to 4 cups fresh strawberries, washed, stemmed, and cut in 1-inch chunks if necessary
2 to 2½ cups sugar
2 cups vinegar (white wine vinegar)
Aromatics (for herbs, several sprigs or a modest handful of leaves; for spice, 1 to 2 tablespoons, depending on strength/flavor)

Combine the fruit and sugar in a wide-mouth glass jar. Use a muddler or wooden spoon to apply gentle yet firm pressure, enough to break up the fruit. Cover the jar with a lid or plastic wrap and let it sit in a cool, dark place for at least 5 or 6 hours, or up to 24 hours.
After 24 hours, add the vinegar and aromatics, stir until the sugar has dissolved, and return, covered, to a cool, dark spot (or the refrigerator) for a week or slightly longer, until the flavor is fully realized.
After a week, or when the flavor is to your liking, press and strain the contents of the jar through cheesecloth or a fine-mesh sieve, pressing lightly to release all of the liquid from the fruit. Store in a clean container in the refrigerator for another week, or until the flavor of the vinegar mellows and fades into the background.
The shrub will keep in the refrigerator for up to 6 months. Serve it with sparkling or still water, over ice, or create your own cocktail by mixing the shrub with a spirit of your choice.

Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now! 
The Author and her Mother Picking Strawberries, by WFAhearn (2014)


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

18th Century Maternity Fashions...what they wore while waiting

Sarah Churchill, 1700, after Sir Godfrey Knelle (is she, or isn't she?)
Over the years I have seen maternity styles change from those of my child-bearing years when we wore loose-fitting dresses or loose-fitting tops over skirts or pants with stretchy panels that we pulled over our bulging bellies, to those of my daughters' generation in which snug-fitting, stretchy dresses or snug-fitting, stretchy tops are worn over skirts or pants whose waistbands fit just below the bulging bellies. With Mother's Day, just passed, it made me ponder what our pregnant 18th century ancestresses wore while awaiting the big day.

Replica of 18th century maternity corset (
With the lack of modern methods of birth control as well as the need for birthing large numbers of babies to ensure enough survived to help out on the farm or even to carry on the family name or business, the 18th century woman often found herself in a state of pregnancy. You might consider some of these dear ladies, chronically pregnant (and, unfortunately, sometimes terminally pregnant with maternal death in childbirth not an uncommon occurrence.)  So, what did the well-dressed woman in the "family way" wear in an era of tight corsets? 

Robe Volante, 1720, Kyoto Costume Institute
Natalia Alexeievna, by Alexander Roslin, 1775
Until late in the 18th century, stiff corsets with equally stiff stays were the everyday wear of all women, whether high-born aristocrat or hard-working kitchen maid. Unlike those crazy folks of fashion in the later Victorian era who continued to wear tight bindings throughout pregnancy, 18th century women were free to at least loosen their corsets to accommodate their expanding waistlines and growing babies. There were corsets made especially for maternity wear that not only laced up in the back, as usual, but also up the front and both sides. Much clothing was pinned and tied together so the lady "in waiting" could adjust her gowns and bodices accordingly. Some fashions of the early 18th century provided convenient camouflage of the burgeoning baby-bellies. One of these was called robe volante, a loose fitting over-dress that was, at first, deemed appropriate as in-home or informal wear, but later worn in more formal settings among both pregnant and non-pregnant women. Some women customized their husbands' long waist-coats to wear over their gowns and petticoats. If the triangular-shaped fabric called a stomacher, which was pinned to the front of the bodice covering the corset, became too small for madam, she could drape long scarves in front to hide the corset.

I am certain many a lady breathed (literally) a sigh of relief when 1800 brought about the temporary end of the corseted stays and the fashion became loose, flowing empire-waisted gowns, a comfortable style for ladies no matter their state of maternity (or lack, thereof.) 

Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now! 

Portrait of María Luisa de Borbón y Vallabriga by  Francisco Goya, 1800

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Bath 18th century town curse or blessing?

Bath, NC (KLWood, 2014)
Recently, my husband and I made the trek down to Bath, North Carolina, just about one hour south of us here in 
Bath, NC
Edenton. Bath, created in 1705, is a fascinating place with its designation as North Carolina’s first established town and, along with many other intriguing facts, the residence of the infamous pirate captain, Edward Teach (AKA Thatch AKA Blackbeard.) Wandering along its quiet streets and down by the Pamlico River, it’s easy to envision life three centuries ago when the little town was bustling with activity including activity that inspired a visiting minister to cast a curse upon the village, but more on that later…

European settlements began growing up along the Pamlico River during the 1690s, leading to Bath’s official establishment in 1705. A collection of books sent to its St. Thomas Parish in 1701 became the origins for the colony’s first public library. (My husband, Bill, went into the Bath Public Library and speaking to one of the librarians was disappointed to learn that all but one of the original books had disappeared over the years and the one remaining book was now owned by the church and not available for public viewing.) Bath became North Carolina’s first port of entry with trade in furs, tobacco, and naval stores.

The first settlers of Bath were French
St. Thomas Church, Bath, NC, (KLWood, 2014) 
Protestants who moved down from Virginia. Early English settlers included John Lawson who was the surveyor general for the colony
of North Carolina and who designed the town’s layout. You may recall from a previous blog post --March 19, 2014-- the story of how poor John Lawson, author and happy expounder of the virtues of North Carolina (including its native Indian
Palmer House, Bath, NC, (WFAhearn, 2014)
tribes,) was killed in 1711 by the Tuscarora in a most horrific manner. 

As a matter of fact, the quiet, nearly deserted streets of Bath today, were the scenes of much political, social, and religious turmoil during its first years. The years 1711-1712 were especially challenging with the area a center of serious upheaval and strife between the Church of England’s Anglican Church and the Society of Friends (Quakers) culminating in Cary’s Rebellion. During that time, the region was also decimated by a yellow fever epidemic, severe drought, and the Tuscarora War. At one point during the war between the Indians and the colonists, Bath was the refuge for more than three hundred widows and children. Keep in mind that just four years earlier, Bath was home to only twelve houses and a total of fifty residents.
Palmer House, Bath, NC (KLWood, 2014)

As the region began putting its pieces back together following the cessation of the Tuscarora War in 1715, Bath began to flourish with increased traffic and trade once more. When Blackbeard the pirate, governor’s pardon in hand, decided to settle down, he chose the town of Bath. There, he and his rowdy crewmen became the life of the party around town, a town that is reported to have grown to a
Plum Point home of Blackbeard, seen from Bath (KLWood, 2014)
population of 8,000. Blackbeard was wined and dined by the locals who were fascinated by his wild tales of adventure and happy to do business with the reformed (so-called) pirate. He took a young wife from the Bath residents, a sixteen year old girl by the name of Mary Ormond, daughter of a nearby plantation owner. The marriage was short-lived however since, within a couple months, Blackbeard was back in the pirating trade and, in November, 1718, was killed in Ocracoke, North Carolina by orders of Virginia’s Governor Spotswood. (You may note it was not North Carolina’s governor, Charles Eden, who ordered Blackbeard’s demise. Governor Eden had actually performed the pirate’s wedding ceremony earlier in the summer.)

One of Bath’s more colorful incidents occurred during the mid-eighteenth century when the famous traveling preacher, George
George Whitefield, 1750, by Joseph Badger
Whitefield, reportedly placed a curse upon the town. Whitefield, a minister born in England who was a famously 
impassioned leader of the religious movement in America known as the Great Awakening, and reported to have drawn ardent crowds of 8,000 at the time, visited Bath on several occasions. His manner and austere preachings against such amusements as dancing were not well received in a town with a history of prosperous trade among infamous pirates. At one point, Whitefield gave up and upon leaving the town for the last time proclaimed: “There’s a place in the Bible that says if a place won’t listen to The Word, you shake the dust of the town off your feet, and the town shall be cursed. I have put a curse on this town for a hundred years.”

A Lovely Memorial Garden in Bath, NC (KLWood, 2014)
Not long after, in 1776, the town of Washington (known by us old-timers as Little Washington) was formed fifteen miles up the Pamlico River. Once the seat of Beaufort County government was moved to Washington in 1785, Bath lost most of its trade and importance and its population decreased steadily over the years, never to return to its earlier days of prosperity and power. Today, the town’s population stands at 249. Cursed? Maybe, but some who live there might well call it blessed as they enjoy its peaceful serenity. Perhaps after such a tumultuous beginning, Bath deserves such a restful retirement.

Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now! 

Fanciful Floral Fire Hydrant in Bath (KLWood, 2014)


Check out :