Thursday, February 25, 2010

Ink in the Civil War

I went to the Virginia Historical Society library today to look at a fragmentary diary kept by Betty Herndon Maury's sister-in-law, Susan Crutchfield Maury. The library's record for this diary says it was written in 1864. By chance, I had read the following extract from Virginia Clay-Clopton's memoirs, A Belle of the Fifties, where she describes how women in the south during the American Civil War had to make their own ink. Reading that was fortuitous, for when I saw Susan's diary, the "ink" was so faded that I could not read the words. The kind reference librarians at the Virginia Historical Society copied the diary pages for me on a copy machine which darkened the letters somewhat. I am going to scan the copied pages and see if I can darken the written words even more so that I can transcribe Susan's diary. I don't know what Susan used to make the "ink" she used to write the diary. What is left of it is a light brown color.

A Belle of the Fifties
Virginia Clay-Clopton
London, Wm. Heinemann, 1905

Page 227: "We made our own writing fluids, our commonest resource being the oak ball, a parasite, which, next to the walnut burr, is the blackest thing in the vegetable world. Or, this failing us, soot was scooped from the chimney, and, after a careful sifting, was mixed with water and 'fixed' with a few drops of vinegar. Sometimes we used poke-berries, manufacturing a kind of red ink, or, made thin with water, some bit of miraculously saved shoe polish provided us with an adhesive black fluid."

Monday, February 15, 2010

Richmond - Hollywood Cemetery

The weather was not particularly cooperative today - cold and overcast (raining now). Nevertheless I decided to see if I could find Hollywood Cemetery again. It is 7.5 miles from where I live, and I got there with no difficulty. I stopped to purchase a map of the cemetery for $1. A map is absolutely necessary for this 135 acre cemetery. I've gotten lost there in the past when I did not have a map. I stopped at the iron dog to say hello. There was snow on the ground which showed dog footprints of a size to match the iron dog walking away from the grave. It was too cold to get out and walk around, but this will be a frequent destination for me once the weather warms up. I have found another place I am excited about visiting once spring arrives: Belle Isle. Both of these places will be good for walking and getting some exercise.

I had my camera with me, but the pictures were out of focus. I discovered that a button on the lens had been moved from its autofocus spot. I have now put it back in the correct place, so hopefully my return trips will yield focused photos. I wish I wish the photo of the dog footprints had turned out.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Richmond - Maupin-Maury House

Having moved to Richmond, I have been excited about the prospect of exploring this historic city. My first excursion was today. I set out armed with the address of the Maupin-Maury House, the house where Betty Herndon Maury's father, Matthew Fontaine Maury, stayed when he was in Richmond during the Civil War. I found the address, 1105 East Clay Street, in Mary Wingfield Scott's book, Houses of Old Richmond. It's location was near the White House of the Confederacy (1201 East Clay Street) which I had visited in the past. I don't remember when I was there, but I had in my mind a vision of the location.

It turns out that there has been a lot of construction in the area since I was last there, and I did not recognize the area at all. Furthermore, the Maupin-Maury House was not there. I did some research after I got back home and discovered that the house was moved in 1992 to 1016 East Clay Street to make way for the construction of new Virginia Commonwealth University and Medical College of Virginia buildings, which now dwarf the White House of the Confederacy. There has been talk of moving the White House of the Confederacy as well, although the experience of moving the Maupin-Maury House seems to have given pause to this idea. The Maupin-Maury House could not be moved intact. It was disassembled and then reassembled in its new location. As a result the house was removed from the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register. It left me feeling sad.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Mrs Senator Gwin's Fancy Ball

On April 12, 1858, Mrs. Senator Gwin, wife of Senator William Gwin of California, gave a fancy ball which was the talk of Washington Society for decades afterwards. This ball is mentioned in many memoirs of the era. Most recently I have read a wonderful account in Virginia Clay-Clopton's memoir, A Belle of the Fifties (available for free download from Google Books in pdf and epub formats). The New York Times for April 13, 1858 also gives a comprehensive account of the ball.

Of note in the New York Times article is the following account of Mrs. Greenhow's costume and character at the ball: "Mrs. Greenhow, of Washington, as a Housekeeper of the Old School, was an admirable representative of a gossiping, agreeable person, acquainted with everyone present, and with everything that was going on." Presumably this is the same Mrs. Greenhow who was later a Confederate spy.