The 2018 Featured Exhibit is called “A Slice of Portsmouth Life”
It provides Observations from the David Durfee Shearman Diaries
A SHORT STORY OF BOOTS AND SHOES
Although shoe history extends back over several centuries, people started making different shoes for right and left feet only during the Victorian Era. They were the first shoes that considered the feet anatomy and thus were more comfortable.
At the same time even in the Victorian era, shoes were a luxury. Women’s magazines of that time often wrote: “Feet are one of the main aspects displaying the social status of a woman. Little feet wearing a pair of good shoes, as well as light step and beautiful gait add some charm to appearance, and show the high status”.
The 1850’s were marked with the industrial mass production of footwear.
Boots history can be traced back to very ancient times. Boots became famous with both genders in the Victorian era. These boots are referred to as Victorian boots, granny boots, gothic boots or witch boots. By mid-1800, the boots became the most popular form of footwear worn by both men and women.
Colonial era boots are as tall as you want them to be. When the boot comes off the bench, the cuff is turned all the way down. There is plenty of leather cuff to easily roll up to whatever height desired. The object is to avoid any gap below your breeches or any show of breeches cuff or stocking. The functional cuff also may be turned up to protect knees and prevent the entrance of rainwater, etc.
A boot is built upon a last. Two sturdy tabs were placed inside each boot.
“If you do not have boot hooks, it’s easy enough
to carry a couple of leather laces in your pocket.
Run a leather lace or sturdy cord through each
tab and use them to pull the boot upward.”
The development of the industrial printing press in the early 1800s was instrumental to modern-day scrapbooking. When printing presses switched from being hand powered to being mechanically powered, it made the mass production of printed materials possible. Elaborately printed greeting cards, calling cards, postcards, prayer cards, advertising trading cards, and other materials were now viewed as novelty keepsakes by the recipients.
During the 1800’s, the emergence and increased accessibility of printed material sparked a new trend. People began filling blank, bound books – previously used for journals or artwork – with clippings, cards and printed memorabilia. These books were literally books of scraps.
The 1800s also brought the creation of the word “scrapbook.” The first recorded use of the noun “scrap book,” to refer to a book with blank pages for pasting items into, is believed to be in 1821. The first use of “scrapbook” as a verb was recorded in 1879.
From website www.scrapbook.com
“History of Scrapbooking”
This scrapbook is inscribed: “A birthday gift from Emma to Annie, Apri 28, 1879”
It was a gift to the Portsmouth Historical Society from Mrs. Ben. Reed.
Through the centuries, clothing and accessories reflected ones’ station in life. In the 17th and 18th centuries dresses were often dark with white cuffs and collars, symbolic of purity, and embellished with various accessories. Purses, hats and even fans, often indicated social status.
Pockets, precursor of purses, were sewn into dresses in all social levels. As the dress styles changed so did the accessories. By the 18th Century separate pockets (purses) were tied at the waist under skirts or aprons. Later, the purses, which were usually small, were carried or tied on the outside of the dress. They became attractive and were often embellished with beading.
Hats covered the heads of almost everyone (men and women). They also became indicators of social status. At first they wore simple white caps. These were not only practical (keeping the hair clean) but also were used if one’s hair was not coifed. Due to the abundance of beavers in the Colonies, most hats were beaver skin or fur. Preparing the furs, called carroting, was done in a steamed orange liquid which often caused problems with the workers’ nervous system. The phrase “mad as a hatter” came from this process. Mobcaps, which were often worn on top of the small caps, were larger and often puffed with lace trims. These were called bonnets. Eventually, other hats were made of felt, wood, cotton and straw. The more elaborate the hats, the higher the wearer’s social status and wealth.
Another accessory, the fan, was carried by wealthy colonial women when going “out”. These fans could be made of paper, chicken skin, silk, lace, wood and even bamboo and ivory. Depending on the material or the decoration, the fans were also a social status indicator. It was often said the ladies could ‘talk’ with their fans….if angry, the closed fan was tapped on the palm. When jealous, one would flutter it in front of the face. Quickly fanning indicated concern and slowly was coquetry. If one couldn’t talk, she placed the closed fan at her lips.
Celebration of milestone events and holidays were recognized with an ever evolving level of festivity by Portsmouth’s agricultural families. Two factors which influenced Portsmouth’s agricultural residents were the introduction of customs from other cultural groups and the advancement of printing techniques. In the mid-1800’s Portsmouth was on the cusp of the first influence, European immigration.
Births, weddings and deaths, are noted in the Shearman diaries with perfunctory reference. These occasions were celebrated within the family and their church. Additional celebration did not accompany these milestone events in agricultural Portsmouth. Their mention, whether a birth at home, a marriage in church, or a burial at the family plot, was nestled between the chores performed that day.
October 31, 1854
Had to turn out at 3 o’clock (Cynthia being sick) went after Mother …
At 20 past 8 o’clock Cynthia presented us with a fat boy that weighed 9 lbs.
I drawed a load of wood from blackpoint, bought of Hezakiah Barker got
It home there was 8 ½ feet. I gave $4 for it…
I helped load furniture then went down to Newtown.
Celebratory gatherings evolved as Portsmouth’s ethnic makeup diversified, typified by the Irish and Scottish coalminers. David Durfee Shearman’s diary documents the Wedding Celebration of John Cochran and Margaret Conroy offering a stark contrast to his own Wedding.
Saturday, 21 February 1852
I have been to Newport to carry a wedding party consisting of seven, three women and four men. Margaret Conroy was the bride. Joe Thomas carried another party of four besides the chaise with two. John Cochran was the Bride-groom. We went with two carriages; I drove Joe Cory’s, and Father his own, we come from Newport in 1 h & 20 m … I carried the horse home then went to the marriage supper, a sumptuous meal, everything in abundance and very good. I got home a little after 10 o’clock.
Shearman’s entry for his own marriage to Cynthia Dixie, less than a year earlier, describes a functional event.
Sunday, 31 August 1851
I went down to Thomas’s [his brother] got my hair cut, went over to Newtown got a carriage, went to the Methodist ministers, got married
then went up to Gibbs Church. A very warm day, light wind south
Religious Holidays were treated as ordinary work days in the mid-1800s sometimes beginning with a church service or culminating with a family meal.
Wednesday, 25 December 1850
Christmas, went to church forenoon, went to shop afternoon
Christmas was not mentioned on December 25 of the following year. It was a complete day of labor. In 1858 the day is labeled Christmas but the day was business as usual with a book delivery at the Stage and a visit to the ten-pin alley.
Secular Holidays, with few exceptions, were not acknowledged by farmers in early Portsmouth. One opportunity to celebrate was noted without detail.
Friday, 4 July 1851
I and Cynthia went to Newport and spent the forth [sic].
The quintessential American holiday, Thanksgiving, was not widely recognized in D.D. Shearman’s time.
Thursday, 25 November 1858
This is the day set by the Governor (Elisha Dyer)
of this state for fasting and thanksgiving.
Shearman did not heed the message as the remainder of the entry related a day of work framing a hen house, carting meal from the mill and delivering a mare to his father. The energy for these chores was fueled by a hearty breakfast.
It was not until the height of the Civil War in 1863 that Abraham Lincoln encouraged the national holiday to “heal the wounds of the nation.”
St. Patrick’s Day was celebrated by the Irish coalminers. Shearman dismisses the celebration as a day of wanton behavior with no work performed.
Saturday, 17 March 1860
Today I went to the coalmine with Uncle David E & Charles. It is Saint Patrick’s day & the Irish are all idle. Last night the Engineer got asleep & the Engine ran away, breaking the pump rod and doing considerable injury.
Printing advancements made postcards available to the mass market. Their exchange became an integral part of holiday celebration between the turn of the 20th century and the 1930s. Earlier cards were handmade from “Scrap” and therefore their exchange was limited. Postcard illustrations give us a glimpse at the evolution of holiday celebrations.
performed by David Durfee Shearman
David Durfee Shearman was born 6 Sept 1830 to Benjamin C. Sherman and Waite Hall. A lifelong resident of Portsmouth, he married Cynthia Dixie at age 20. He fathered eight children, four of whom lived into adulthood. He served in the Civil War and died 31 July 1868 at age 37.
D. D. Shearman grew up attending to both his farming chores and his intellectual development. As an adult he attended education classes and Lyceum lectures. He participated in formal debates and wrote his daily diary entries in beautiful penmanship using the more obscure Shearman spelling as his pen name.
He was skilled and inventive. He soled shoes, knitted mittens, made his own traveling salesman’s valise, improvised household necessities and crafted items that were beyond the family’s economic reach. His diaries recount the life of an intelligent, curious man of modest means.
The odd jobs performed by David Durfee Shearman give us a glimpse of life in mid-1800s Portsmouth. He harvested potatoes, dug clams, picked apples, sold hen feathers and collected seaweed. He assisted with barn raisings, built walls and constructed a dam at the Glen.
He earned money by turning the fandango and setting up ten-pins for bowling at the Portsmouth Grove, a resort once located on the present day Melville shore. As an independent book salesman, he traveled by foot to Portsmouth neighbors and relatives in near-by Massachusetts.
He carried out his civic responsibility by serving as town Marshall and enlisting to fight with the Union troops.
VINTAGE KITCHEN TOOLS
While food preparation tasks in the kitchen have not changed all that much, neither have the tools used to accomplish those chores. Then, as now, women were largely responsible for these everyday jobs. Whether “lady of the house” or hired help, they were busy in the kitchen employing the tools they had to assist them.
In the early days of the colonies, kitchen chores were much more labor intensive and time consuming. It’s interesting to note that many kitchen” gadgets” were hand crafted but similar to those used today and accomplished similar tasks with more effort.
Prior to the invention of plastics, kitchen implements were often made of wood or possibly metal like cast iron or tin – or like our sausage maker, a combination of both.
Prior to the invention of the sewing machine, all clothing and household items such as bed linens, tablecloths, and towels as well as shirts, petticoats, shifts, etc. were hand sewn. Most women spent a large amount of time sewing. Even women of comfortable means sewed and having good sewing skills was considered part of a young lady’s education. Most sewing before the 19th century was practical. Clothing was an expensive investment and women had an important role in extending the longevity of items of clothing. Sewing was used for mending. Faded clothing would be turned inside-out so that it could continue to be worn, and sometimes had to be taken apart and reassembled. Children’s garments could be “cut down” to fit younger siblings. When clothing became worn or torn, it would be taken apart and the reusable cloth sewn into new items of clothing, made into quilts, or otherwise put to practical use. The first mechanical sewing machines were used in garment factory production lines. It was not until 1889 that a sewing machine for use in the home was designed and marketed.
“Every good Child
Who sews with a will
Should have a wee birdie
To help with his Bill”
The sewing bird, also known as a sewing clamp, hemming clamp, or third hand, was used in the 18th and early 19th centuries to attach one end of a piece of cloth firmly to a table to enable the seamstress to hold her sewing taut with one hand while stitching with the other.
The beak holds the fabric to be sewn. Depressing the tail releases the beak enabling the fabric to be repositioned or removed.
In America, they became luxury items that a young man would present to his intended bride months before the wedding.
A CHILD’S LIFE
This display features items that would be found in a child’s life in earlier decades or centuries.
Some of the displayed clothing items include a handmade baby’s bonnet, children’s gloves and mittens, and a pair of 1890 high button, soft soled baby boots.
Several of the toys were intended to teach the children skills they would need later in life, such as the iron, basket of clothes pins, and the 1860’s doll.
Many of the games have evolved into games children still play, like jacks, dominoes (in the form of a card game), a checkerboard puzzle (mentioned in the diary as chequers ) and the magnetic jack straws from 1920, very similar to our pick-up-stix.
Also included are an ice skate and a roller skate.
Music and Instruments Importance of Music in the Christian Union Church
The most active of the Church committees seemed to be Music and Social Life. The church members believed that everyone should have access to a musical education. The church had a singing school and organ lessons were given. The organ you see in the church’s audience room today was bought from Emmanuel Church from Newport in 1903.
Music in Your Life Imagine! There is no radio or television. If you wanted to hear some music then you probably needed to make it yourself. The Historical Society has received some donations of some early musical instruments as well as several music books.
Early Accordion The accordion is a portable, freely vibrating reed instrument. It consists of a keyboard and bass casing that are connected by a collapsible bellows. Within the instrument are metal reeds, which create sound when air, generated by the movement of the bellows, ﬂows around them and causes them to vibrate. First constructed in the early nineteenth century, the accordion continues to evolve into an ever more versatile instrument.
This early accordion shown here just has a keyboard, a lever and a ﬂap to allow air to enter the bellows. The reeds are located on the inside of the bellows.
Wooden Clarinet Clarinet bodies have been made from a variety of materials including wood, plastic, hard rubber, metal, resin, and ivory. There are no speciﬁc candidates as the direct ancestor of the clarinet. But there is one: The Chalumeau (spoken: Shaloomoh) that spread widely all over Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It was not easy to play. Eventually an instrument maker in Nuremberg, Germany, ﬁnally managed to build an instrument in the mid eighteenth century that was easier to play. The result was sensational and it was heard in orchestras very soon.
Daisy Printing Press
Do you have business cards? Did you have to order them or do you use your computer printer to make your own? Kate Bailey (1849 – 1938), an active leader at the Middletown library, would not have had a business card, but she would have had a “calling card.” This Daisy Printing Press is how Kate made her own cards.
This printing press was advertised as “a complete printing office for boys.” Aimed at beginners, this press outfit included an ink roller, ink, a composing pallet and a fancy card type to set with spaces. it would have been stored in a wooden box. This whole kit was offered at a reduced rate of $1.80.
The Daisy Press probably dates from 1885. It would have been manufactured by Ives, Blackslee of New York. They made other similar presses including the Boss, Favorite, and Leader. The kits always included ink, roller, tweezers, cards and bronze dust. Bronze dust was mixed with ink to make the card look metallic.
There was an etiquette for calling cards (visiting cards). They needed to be plain, white, thin and with a simple script. Married ladies would use their husband’s name or initials on the card. A widow, like Kate Bailey, would use “Mrs” with their given name and surname. You ladies would always use the prefix “Miss.”
Men may carry both a “calling card” and a business card. A business card would never have been used as a visiting card.
“Turning down a corner” of the card was out of fashion by 1900. The cards would let someone know that you have come to visit, and you might be expected to make a call back.
Did you know? A lady would leave a card for only another lady. A man would leave cards for the host and hostess of a house.
Chase Auction Book
Auctions in America
Auctions really were an “everyday” activity in Portsmouth history. Auctions have been a way to transfer goods, crops, slaves and even land since the days of the Pilgrims. Selling at an auction was the most efficient way to convert property and goods produced into cash so that the seller had money to buy what was needed and to pay bills.
Auctioneers were sometimes called “Colonels” or “Knights of the Hammer.” Goods confiscated by military forces were often sold by auction. Even after the war the military used auctions to sell surplus goods. Auctions became associated with the military. The military and the auctioneers were often traveling in the same routes. Some auctioneers even adopted a military looking dress.
The tools of the auctioneer’s trade were a colonel style hat, a cane, a hammer or gavel and a red flag. The flag was placed above where the auctioneer would sell on the day of the auction. An important part of our exhibit is Isaac Chase’s auction flag. Under state rules, an out of state auctioneer had to work under the “flag” of a local auctioneer. The professional auctioneers that came for the Vanderbilt Oakland Farm auction needed to operate under Isaac Chase’s flag. As a licensed auctioneer in the State of Rhode Island, Chase had to file records of the proceeds of the sale. His record book was a way of keeping track of the sales and profits.
Auction schools became popular in the early 1900s, but many believed that an auctioneer could not be trained. They believed that auctioneering was an ability you received at birth.
Auctioneers had natural hazards. Most auctions were outdoors, so bad weather often became a factor. They had to project their voices without a sound system which required a balance so they were loud enough to be heard yet preserve their voice. They had to draw a crowd. Some auctioneers offered lunch to those who came. Isaac Chase was very careful to have his auctions near easy access to the trolleys so people could get there.
Did you know? Furs were one of the first goods to be transported to a shipping port and then sold at auction to European merchants.
Many Victorian funeral customs started when Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, died of typhoid in 1861. She mourned him for the rest of her life, dressing in full mourning for the ﬁrst three years after his death (her entire court did the same). Her style of mourning was copied the world over, especially in England, and it ushered in a period of elaborate, ritualized behavior after death — including mourning periods, styles of dress, and extravagant funeral and burial arrangements.
A widow in Victorian England was expected to stay in mourning for more than two years. For the ﬁrst year and one day, she wore only dull black clothing without jewelry and a black cape that was her “weeping veil.” The clothingbecame slightly more adorned and a little less crepe-covered as time went on; in a later stage of mourning, a woman could wear purple or gray.
Examples of typical clothing that could be used as mourning clothes are shown in the display.
Mourning cards became popular during the early 1800s. Two examples are shown in the display. Most mourning cards were constructed from heavy card-stock, and made up of intricate, formal designs that were cut and embossed. A heavy black border usually framed the card, which included the birth and death dates. Other pertinent information about the deceased might be listed, along witha prayer, poem, or sentimental words of remembrance. It was expected that themourning card would be saved and placed in an album, or hung in a frame as a keepsake.
MOURNING HAIR JEWELRY
If you’ve spent any time at all perusing antique jewelry sales or onlineestate auctions, you’ve probably been surprised by some Victorian hair jewelry. It’s actually an incredibly interesting type of jewelry that teaches us a lot about the way Victorian women understood love, family, and death. An example of ahair bracelet is shown in the display.
Victorians tended to view hair sentimentally. Women traditionally grew their hair their whole lives, and much religious and popular rhetoric focused on it being a woman’s “crowning glory” and her beauty. Hair was an important signiﬁer to Victorians, not only of social class, but a sentimental part of their lives. It was very common for Victorian women to exchange locks of hair, especially between dear friends and family whom one may never see again. Consequently, to take a lock of hair from a recently deceased loved one was very typical method of remembrance.
Summary of the 2018 Civil War exhibit in the Old Town Hall:
Although the Lovell General Hospital, also known as Portsmouth Grove Hospital, remains Portsmouth’s most notable contribution to the Civil War, this year’s exhibit focusses on Portsmouth men involved in combat. The 2018 features are titled:
- Resolute Residents
- Receiving Word
Note: Two of the more interesting artifacts in the exhibit belonged to men who made their way to Portsmouth after the war. They are the Civil War Sword and the Doctor’s Saddle Bags. The information in the display case has been updated and now includes the battles where these artifacts saw action.
The following excerpt—from Philip S. Chase’s book—describes the recruiting efforts of the “Seventh Rhode Island Battery.” The unit was mustered in as Battery F of the First Regiment Rhode Island Light Infantry, but was better known as “Belger’s Rhode Island Battery.”
To facilitate recruiting and for the purpose of creating enthusiasm for the artillery branch of the service, excursions from Camp Perry [in Cranston, RI] were made… during the month of October, 1861… as related by one of the number, are here given:
‘…Friday morning [October 25th] we marched to Portsmouth, arriving at the village of Newtown about noon, where the command was sumptuously entertained by the town clerk, Philip B. Chase, Esq. [the author’s father], at his residence. At night we encamped in Fort Butts, an extensive earthwork of Revolutionary times, located on a hill about one and a half miles southerly from Bristol Ferry. The memory of scenes enacted on this spot, as described in history, served to increase the patriotism of our little band and strengthen the determination to do all in our Power for the preservation of the county in its time of peril.’ (Chase, 2-4)
Philip S. Chase, enlisted on 7 October 1861 at the age of 18. The unit mustered in on 29 October 1861.
[A copy of the book and photo of Philip S. Chase is on display]
The display case contains a list of 30 men —who were either born in Portsmouth or lived in Portsmouth at some point before the war—organized by regiment. The list provides the name of each soldier; company (each regiment is organized into about 10 companies); dates of service; notes, including approximate age (based on census records in most cases), occupation before the war, and details about their service. Unless otherwise noted, the soldier was a private. A list of notable battles where each regiment saw action is also provided, in italics, below the name of the regiment.
[A wicker covered whiskey flask, two powder flasks, and a Union soldier’s belt buckle are display in front of the rosters. These artifacts likely belonged to one or a few of the men on the list. If a visitor would like more information about any of these men, refer to the Civil War Docent Guide by the front desk. There is a full report detailing the research and sources used, along with other Civil War related information.]
During the Civil War, at least 30 Portsmouth families anxiously awaited word— via letters and newspaper reports— about how their loved ones were faring.