So far, we have considered that Maggie’s ancestor Hester Morris might have been a cook for a wealthy family or worked on a farm as a member of the family.
There are a few other options, though.
She could work in a tavern, like the one pictured above. (It's Christiana Cambell's Tavern in Williamsburg.) Perhaps her father owned a tavern and she served or cooked in it.
Or maybe Hester could be a seamstress, working in a shop – or perhaps she owned a shop, although that might indicate she was a woman of means.
Being a maid in a well-to-do family was another option. (Pictured above: the Randolph House in Williamsburg.) Hester might be employed to clean a home and/or wait on the family.
If Hester is educated, she could teach in a school or work as a governess.
She also might be involved in working in a family's garden if she lived in town.
However, it is important to remember that anything Hester might do at this time would be within “woman’s sphere:” cooking, cleaning, spinning, weaving, making clothing, gardening, caring for animals, and child care.
And, of course, there’s always “the oldest profession” of prostitution. It feels a little weird to think that one of Maggie's ancestors might choose that profession - but I wouldn't be surprised if a "lady of the evening" or two were found in her family tree.
However, what would be unusual would be for Hester to venture into male-dominated areas of employment, especially if she were an immigrant or indentured servant. So I don't see her striking into those areas. Frankie may be interested in ministry and Lydia may be pursuing a medical career, but they live over 100 years later, during the first wave of American feminism.
I wish I had some photos of women in Colonial Williamsburg sewing or working in a shop, but there just wasn’t enough time to hit everything during our short stay there.
Now it's your turn to do some thinking.
What might Hester Morris have done for a living in the American colonies in the 1730s?
And where might she first have arrived in the colonies?
Feel free to comment! I usually turn the comments off on the blog because I have received spam and bots tend to send me stuff. But I'll open comments up for this post and approve them before they are posted.
Yesterday, we looked at high society and took a tour of the Governor’s Palace.
The restored and reconstructed buildings seen in Williamsburg today represent people of means, rather than the average Virginian. While I was working for Colonial Williamsburg in 1996-97, the organization was finding its way to including people other than prosperous white males in the city’s story. As a result, well-to-do and working women and men, indentured servants, and enslaved people are included in third- and first-person encounters in the living museum today.
Even though Williamsburg looks small and like a town to our 21st century eyes, it was considered a city during the colonial era. Although not as big as Philadelphia, New York, or Boston, or even smaller cities of the time, it was capital of the Virginia colony (from 1699 to 1780) and was a hotbed of revolutionary activity. In addition, the little city contained taverns and other amenities to accommodate representatives of House of Burgesses, the elected part of the Virginia Colony’s General Assembly, as well as business people and others. It was prosperous. It was the big time to the eyes of rural folks.
Today a farm called “Great Hopes Plantation” is growing up on the outskirts of Williamsburg’s historical area. Its purpose is to give visitors an understanding of what most Virginians experienced.
Farming was hard work that required skill and good luck. Great Hopes Plantation represents a typical farm of the 1770s. About 90% of all Virginians lived and worked on farms like it. The sign introducing the plantation soberly states, “You were born here, you worked here, you lived here, you loved here, and you died here.” The farm was your world, your everything.
Although Colonial Williamsburg hasn’t yet built a farmhouse on the site, I do remember being told that a typical house for a typical farmer would be unpainted, drafty, and have little in the way of the luxuries one might find among Williamsburg’s upper crust. No big, feather beds. No well-crafted furniture. No lovely china, silver, or glassware.
One thing a farm did have, however, was outbuildings. Perhaps the most important among them for Virginia farmers was the tobacco house, where harvested tobacco was dried.
Tobacco, a major crop, was sold to England and, on a good year, could bring in the tidy sum of about 120 pounds sterling. Compare this income to the 40 pounds sterling a skilled craftsman might earn in Williamsburg. No wonder people would risk bad weather or blight to raise this crop!
Tobacco also was behind the growth of slavery in Virginia, but life on small and large plantations was very different for enslaved people than in cities like Williamsburg. In city-settings, people who were enslaved lived in proximity to those who owned them. On a farm, though, they were housed away from the white family, and this facilitated the development of a different community and cultural life among the enslaved community. Now, let's take a look at what one of their houses might look like.
The sample house for enslaved workers has no windows and its chimney is wood. I imagine the floor was dirt. The people who lived in it probably slept on the floor and on mattresses stuffed with straw.
How drastically dwelling conditions for the enslaved differed from those who enslaved them will be clearer once the farmer's house is built on the Williamsburg site.
(I probably don't need to say this, but I will: slavery was universal throughout the American colonies. The northern states did not begin abolishing slavery until after the Revolution.)
Finally, we come to the kitchen.
The kitchen was not part of the house. Rather, it was a separate building. The information at Great Hopes states that the structure was “the heart of domestic life on a plantation.” It was where the farmer’s wife and her children worked on cleaning, feeding, and clothing the other people on the farm. Enslaved people did not work in the kitchen but tended to be used primarily to work in with the tobacco crop. So this was primarily the preserve of the farmer's wife and children.
Now, the big question. Was Hester Morris, Maggie’s great-great grandmother who married Donald Beatty in 1735, a farm girl? Was she an indentured servant who served on a small farm and came here on her own? Or did she arrive in America with her family?
Can we see Maggie’s great-great grandmother working on a farm? Would it be a logical place to start? After all, Maggie states that her ancestors were farmers and that life was hard and tragic for them.
But would there be other options out there for Hester?
I’ll be looking into that on Monday’s Squeaking Blog!
My supposition about Maggie’s first female ancestor in America is that she is not upper-class. I got a good look at what the wealthiest people lived like in the city of Williamsburg today when we toured the Governor’s Palace.
I’ve toured the Palace before, but this time I did it with an eye to what Maggie’s ancestor would do within the Palace if she were there?
As an aside, I’m getting tired of calling her “Maggie’s ancestor.” She needs a name. Let’s call her… (quick query of “Female Scottish First Names”) Hester… and… (quick query of Scottish Surnames) Morris.
Okay. Like it or not, now she’s stuck with Hester Morris as a name.
So, let’s talk about the Governor’s Palace. (Pictured at the top of the post.)
Before the Revolution, the Governor’s Palace was the luxurious dwelling of the English governor appointed to oversee the colony of Virginia. When you first walk into the building you come face-to-face with the symbols of his power.
Just look at all those weapons on the wall! When I was here last, about five years ago, the walls were a dark wood paneling. The interesting thing about Williamsburg is that research is ongoing, and the ongoing research revealed that the walls would have been painted a light color. So, it was painted. The front hall is now considered to be “highly accurate.”
The Palace is decorated as if Governor Dunmore, his wife, and six of their seven children still lived there. Upstairs, we saw Lady Dunmore’s bedroom and dressing room, and a family room with walls papered in red silk. I don’t think I got into Governor Dunmore’s bedroom. (Wow, that sounds wrong.) But the rooms in which the family lived were well-appointed for the time.
As for clothing, check out this replica of a gown. Nope. Hester Morris would not be wearing that. Plus, it would clash with her red hair. Frankie had to get that somewhere, right?
Going back downstairs, we went through the music room that had a harpsichord, as well as an organ disguised as a cabinet. I have no idea why it was disguised as a cabinet, except that it was clever.
We ended in the green ballroom that was heated by a stove to one side and the green of which sadly did not quite match my top (so terribly disappointing).
Somehow I just can’t see Hester working inside the Palace. I did, however, see a contender in one of the buildings in the Palace complex.
And that building is the cookhouse. Every day Colonial Williamsburg’s staff makes food that would have been on the Governor’s table. Today, it was (among other things) pork, poultry, a lemon cake, and potato pie! The potato pie was a savory one, as opposed to a sweet potato pie. But I need to research whether it bears any similarity to the potato pie I found in Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt Book and mentioned in Seeing the Elephant. I’ll have until I get home to work that out.
Our first contender, then, for Hester’s form of employment is “cook” in an upper-class household.
I think I will find 2-3 more potential jobs for Maggie’s ancestor. And, then, I might put it up for a vote to see which draws the most “yays.”
Until tomorrow, good people, I your humble servant take leave.
No, we did not come cruising up the James River on that lovely old boat. On Monday, my friends Claudia & John took us out on their motor boat on Breton Bay (the western shore of Maryland). Then this boat casually came sailing along, as if to say, "Hi, we're in a model of a 17th century ship. What's up with you?"
Anyway, we left Maryland Tuesday and traveled to Williamsburg, where over the next few days I'll give you a sample of what the historical area is like.
The first thing we did was check into our hotel and then go over to the Visitors' Center to see about our passes. You do not have a buy a pass to visit Williamsburg. You can have a grand old time just walking around and looking at the restored and rebuilt houses and other structures. However, if you want to go into any of the buildings (with the exception of the stores) and any of the areas that teach about trades and crafts, it helps to buy a pass. You will meet third-person interpreters who will tell you about the building and the family who lived there or about the work they are doing. They know their stuff and are able to lay some interesting goodies on you. At some of the sites are first-person interpreters. These are actors who portray real people (generally) and if you make 21st century references, they will not understand what you are talking about. This is about as close as you can get to talking to an 18th-century person. It's fun!
While we were in the Visitors' Center we also came upon this:
Yes. Williamsburg has gone dog-friendly since I was here last. However, this dog is part of Colonial Williamsburg, and he and his person had gathered a tidy little crowd around them.
We spent our first evening in Market Square, which is not the restored area, but sits adjacent to it. There are stores here and restaurants. Dan likes to hit the Craft House, which sells recreations of historical items. It's also an ABC store that sells bottles of local wines and beers related to the town. You can also buy a bottle of Shrub, which we were told is an 18th-century apple cider non-boozers would consume, rather than water. The reason? Water could make you sick. All sorts of stuff could seep into the wells.
We had dinner at Berret's Seafood Restaurant (yum!) and then strolled down Duke of Gloucester Street, at which point my cell phone battery decided to run down, However, I did get a few shots of the houses along the way.
A while back, I had written about trade signs, and the historical area is full of them. Here are two.
Based on the signs, what do you think these stores sold or made? A sheep and a saw. Hmmm...
Tomorrow the tour starts in earnest.
I want to emphasize again that history is fascinating because it is the story of people, not just big movements or wars or dates. Williamsburg tries to give you a window into the lives of the people of a particular point in time, what they did for fun, how they made their living, and what was important to them. And, lest we forget, they were living at a crucial point in our history: the political upheaval before the Revolution.
One other reason we need to know our history: what happened in the past often echoes into the future.