Monday, February 13, 2017

William Lee and George Washington

Washington and His Family, engraved by J. Sartain,
published by Wm. Smith, Philadelphia, ca. 1850
One of the first things that visitors to the Alice notice are the many images of George Washington to be found throughout the museum. In sculpture, on ceramics, in print, and in painting, his familiar face is everywhere. While many of these images emphasize his military career, others depict him in a more domestic light, as in the engraving of Washington and his family that hangs in the second-floor hallway. This engraving, produced around 1850, is based on a portrait painted by Edward Savage in the 1790s. Savage himself made a number of different engravings of Washington and his family, and its many variations were popular throughout the late 18th and 19th centuries.

Detail of Edward Savage’s painting
Both the painting and the engravings depict George and Martha Washington seated at a table at Mount Vernon, on which plans for the new capital city are displayed. Standing with them are George Washington Parke Custis and Eleanor Parke Custis, two of Martha’s grandchildren, who came to live at Mount Vernon after the death of their father in 1781. Standing behind Martha Washington is William Lee, an enslaved man who served as George Washington’s personal valet and had accompanied him throughout the campaigns of the Revolutionary War.

During his lifetime, William (also known as Billy) Lee was something of a celebrity, and was probably one of the best known African-Americans in the nation. Because of his long and close association with Washington, we know much more about him than we do about most enslaved people of the Revolutionary era. Lee was also the only one of Washington’s slaves who was granted immediate emancipation upon Washington’s death. Billy’s story is therefore a good way to examine George Washington’s relationship to slavery, and particularly the tensions between the ideals of liberty and the reality of bondage that were at the heart of the Revolution.

George Washington became a slaveowner at the age of eleven, when his father died and he inherited ten individuals. Over the years, Washington purchased additional slaves, and inherited others. By the time of his death in 1799, he owned 123 people. Also living at Mount Vernon were 153 enslaved men and women who had belonged to Martha Washington’s first husband, Daniel Parke Custis. Although they were part of Martha’s property during her lifetime, neither she nor George owned them outright. They could not be freed, and after her death they would pass to the remaining Custis heirs. 

Another (probably imaginary) depiction
of William Lee, by John Trumbull
William Lee was one of the slaves that George Washington purchased. He and his brother Frank came to Mount Vernon as teenagers after Washington bought them from Mary Smith Ball Lee. In addition to his duties as valet, Lee also accompanied Washington on surveying expeditions and served as huntsman during fox hunts. George Washington Parke Custis recalled that Billy “rode a horse called Chinkling, a surprising leaper, and made very much like its rider, low, but sturdy, and of great bone and muscle. Will had but one order, which was to keep with the hounds; and, mounted on Chinkling, a French horn at his back, throwing himself almost at length on the animal, with his spur in flank, this fearless horseman would rush, at full speed, through brake or tangled wood, in a style which modern huntsmen would stand aghast.”

In addition to his skill as a horseman, William Lee was known for serving George Washington throughout the Revolutionary War. Lee accompanied Washington on all his campaigns from 1775 to 1783, and was responsible for transporting and safeguarding Washington’s “most precious papers.” Washington and Lee returned to Mount Vernon in December 1783 and resumed their regular patterns. However, during a surveying expedition in 1785, William fell and broke his kneecap. It never healed correctly, and three years later, he fell and broke his other knee. Despite his limited mobility, Lee was determined to accompany President Washington to the capital at New York in 1790. Washington expressed his willingness to “gratify him in every reasonable wish” in recognition of his faithful service, but William Lee stayed only for a short time in New York before returning to Mount Vernon.

Detail of census of enslaved men and women
at Mount Vernon, 1799
Nine years later, as George Washington made his will, he again singled out William. His other slaves would only be freed after Martha Washington’s death, but Billy Lee was to be given immediate freedom, if he chose. Or, “if he should prefer it (on account of the accidents which have befallen him, and which have rendered him incapable of walking or of any active employment),” he could “remain in the situation he now is.” In either case, he was to be given an annuity of thirty dollars “as a testimony of my sense of his attachment to me, and for his faithful services during the Revolutionary War.” William lived at Mount Vernon until his death in 1810, and was the object of much interest among the many visitors who continued to visit Washington’s former home.

For over two hundred years, commentators have used Billy Lee’s story as a way to make their own points about race and slavery. For slavery apologists, Lee was an example of a good slave, one who had earned his freedom through good behavior and loyalty to his master. His life after emancipation, when he developed a drinking problem (no doubt due to his ongoing physical ailments), was seen by some as proof that black people could not really survive outside slavery. Others have looked to the relationship with Billy Lee to find  evidence of Washington’s true feelings about slavery. To some, Washington’s relatively indulgent treatment of, and his decision to emancipate, Lee, suggest that Washington came to question the morality of slave ownership. Their documented close relationship seemed to offer proof that friendship and genuine affection between slave and master could exist. 

On the other hand, Washington could have freed Billy, or any of the 122 other slaves he owned, before his own or Martha’s death. A law passed in Virginia in 1782 made it possible to emancipate slaves by deed (prior to that law, manumission required the approval of the Governor and council). However much he may have come to dislike owning slaves, Washington chose to defer any concrete action until after his death. He had no way of knowing, when he made his will, that Martha Washington would free his remaining slaves a year later, prompted by several suspicious fires that stoked fears of an uprising. When Martha herself died in 1802, the Custis slaves became the property of her grandchildren, but descendants of Washington and Custis slaves continued to live at Mount Vernon and in the surrounding neighborhood for generations, long after the Washingtons themselves were gone.


Most of the information about the life of William Lee comes from Mary V. Thompson, “William Lee and Oney Judge: A Look at George Washington and Slavery,Journal of the American Revolution. Additional information on Washington and slavery can be found at Mount Vernon’s website.

Two popular 19th-century accounts of the life of Washington that discuss Billy Lee are George Washington Parke Custis, Recollections and Private Memoirs of Washington (1859)  and Benton J. Lossing, The Home of Washington: Mount Vernon and Its Associations (1871).

For an example of one of Washington’s contemporaries who did free his slaves during his lifetime, read about Robert Carter III.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Talking About the Things That Aren't There

February is Black History Month, which means that it’s the time of year when museums around the United States take the opportunity to highlight objects in their collections that tell the story of black Americans. And every year at this time I think about how the Alice can mark the occasion when the collection doesn't seem to include much of relevance to African-American history. In tackling this question, it’s important to think about why the Alice’s collection looks the way it does, and use that knowledge to shape a more inclusive interpretation.

One of the American Wing’s period rooms,
depicting the home of a wealthy Philadelphian.
The Alice is very much the product of an approach to collecting that was typical in the early 20th century. Collecting antiques was largely the hobby of well-to-do Americans of northern European descent, and for the most part they were interested in acquiring the sort of items that would have been owned by their ancestors or people like them. They wanted to collect items that were examples of fine craftsmanship, and ideally objects that had some connection to people who had played an important role in the founding of the nation. This was also true of the museum collections of early American decorative arts that were being founded during this period, such as the American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The American Wing’s curator, R. T. H. Halsey, wrote in 1925 that the period rooms were “representative of the homes of men—parsons, planters, mariners, merchants, and tradesmen—by whose efforts and sacrifices the Republic was made possible.”

Historians, curators, and collectors of the early 20th century generally had a fairly limited view of whose “efforts and sacrifices” were worth remembering. Working people and the poor rarely played a part in their accounts of the past. The existence of slavery was acknowledged but its significance was minimized. In some cases, authors felt that slavery was an embarrassing aberration that was best glossed over, while others upheld the view that it had been a benign and paternalistic institution. And it must be said that many white Americans simply didn’t think that black Americans had contributed much to the nation, nor did they think they really belonged as members of the national community. 

Dr. Carter G. Woodson
However, during this same period, African-American scholars and activists were working to educate the public about black history. They wanted black Americans to realize that they had a history, and that history was not wholly defined by the experience of slavery. They hoped to instill racial pride by emphasizing the economic, political, military, and cultural contributions of African-Americans. At the same time, they hoped that these messages would reach white Americans and help to counteract assumptions about black inferiority. They wanted everyone to understand that black Americans had a distinct history, but one that was also inseparable from US history.

One of the most important individuals in this movement—and the reason why we have Black History Month today—was Carter G. Woodson. Woodson was born in Virginia in 1875, the son of former slaves. Largely self-educated as a young man, he eventually completed a Ph.D. in history from Harvard University in 1912, becoming only the second African-American to earn a doctorate. In 1915, he founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History and became the editor of the Journal of Negro History. Woodson believed that prejudice was “the inevitable outcome of thorough instruction to the effect that the Negro has never contributed anything to the progress of mankind.” Education, then, would be key to bringing about social change.

Negro History Week Bulletin,
1946, with message from
President Truman
To this end, Woodson and the ASNLH established Negro History Week in 1926. They chose the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and Frederick Douglass (February 14), two days that had long been commemorated in the African-American community. Woodson and the Association set a theme for the celebration each year, and distributed materials: “pictures, lessons for teachers, plays for historical performances, and posters of important dates and people.” Originally the object of Negro History Week was to encourage the teaching of black history in public schools, but it soon spread further. The growing black middle class was particularly receptive to Woodson’s ideas, and black history clubs were formed in many communities.

By the 1940s, Negro History Week had expanded to the entire month of February in some localities, and the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s encouraged the trend in that direction. The official shift from Negro History Week to Black History Month came in 1976, as it was officially recognized by President Gerald Ford as part of the Bicentennial commemoration.

Carter Woodson hoped that Negro History Week would eventually die out because it would become commonplace to teach black history as an integral part of US history. That hasn’t happened yet, but it certainly is true that Americans today are more aware of the importance of black history (witness the overwhelming response to the recent opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture). And the more I thought about it, the more  I realized that since black history is so intertwined with broader US history, it shouldn’t really be that difficult to find it at the Alice—we just might have to look a little bit harder to find it. Over the next month, I’ll be telling some of these stories.


“Origins of Black History Month,” Association for the Study of African American Life and History

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Lamb’s Wool and Smoking Bishop: Christmas Punch Traditions

No “Christmas Gambols” would be complete
without a bowl of punch (1783)
In my last post I talked about how Christmas traditions in Britain and North America changed from the 18th to the 19th century, as the holiday became more domestic and child-centric. One thing that remained constant, however, was the place of punch in Christmas and New Year’s celebrations. Closely related to the tradition of wassail (a mulled cider or ale also known as lamb’s wool) punch obtained an almost iconic status in the 19th century through the writings of Charles Dickens.

Punch itself has its origins in India, and its first mention in European historical sources comes in a letter from one English East India merchant to another, written in 1632. From India it spread, via merchants and sailors, to the Caribbean, and on to the eastern seaboard of America and to Europe. There is some speculation that the word “punch” derives from the Hindi word panch, meaning five, for the five ingredients, but many punches have more or fewer ingredients.

Majolica punch bowl by George Jones, ca. 1875
Mr. Punch supports an orange-rind bowl
In any case, by the early 18th century, punch had settled into a consistent formula: one measure of something acid (usually citrus juice), two of something sweet (sugar), three of something strong (brandy, rum, sometimes wine), and four of something weak (water, tea, milk). In the 19th century, punch recipes began to change again. As punch historian Elizabeth Gabay notes, “The fixed proportions were no longer always followed; many different fruits, liqueurs, wines, and even beer were added and generally punches became less acidic and more sweet and rich. At the same time, the nature of Christmas and New Year celebrations changed, becoming more dramatic and ritualised. The same punch every year became an essential part of the festivity.” Special punch bowls and cups, intended to be used just for the holidays, also became common.

Scrooge and Bob Cratchit
Illustration by John Leech (1843)
Charles Dickens’s descriptions of yuletide celebrations, particularly Christmas Carol (1843), helped to solidify punch’s status as central to the holiday. Scrooge sees a vision of an ideal Christmas, which includes “seething bowls of punch, that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam.” At the end of the story, a reformed Scrooge tells Bob Cratchit, “I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon over a bowl of smoking bishop, Bob!” Smoking bishop was made with port and a roasted orange; Dickens himself seemed to prefer a rum punch:

“To make three pints, take a strong, common basin (which may be broken, in case of accident, without damage to the owner’s peace or pocket) and in it place the finely sliced rinds of three lemons, a double-handful of sugar lumps, a pint of dark rum and a large wine glass of brandy. Set alight and allow to burn for three or four minutes (extinguish by covering with a lid). Add the juice of three lemons and a quart of boiling water. Stir, cover, leave for five minutes and stir again. Taste and sweeten if necessary, but observe that it will be a little sweeter presently. Pour into an ovenproof jug or bowl and cover with a leather cloth. Place in a hot oven for 10 minutes. Remove the lemon rind before serving.”

In the American colonies, punch developed in its own way, eventually producing that classic Christmas drink, eggnog. Egg punch was common in Britain, but the Americans made it richer and more custard-like. One observer in 1815 noted that in “the South it is almost indispensible at Christmas time, and at the North it is a favourite at all seasons.” George Washington’s recipe for eggnog included rye whiskey, Jamaican rum, sherry, eggs, sugar, cream, and milk. Eggs and milk were harder to come by in the winter, and more expensive, so eggnog was a true holiday treat.

Pressed glass miniature punch bowl and cups,
probably late 19th century
There are a number of large bowls in Alice’s ceramics collection that look like they could hold a fine batch of punch, but none that are specifically identified as such. There is, however, a very small punch bowl, with six matching thimble-sized cups. This miniature set would have been a salesman’s sample, carried by a traveling sales representative of the manufacturer to display to potential retailers. Perhaps it was passed on to a lucky child after the model was discontinued, to be the star of a dolls’ Christmas party!

This post is largely drawn from the site A History of the World Through a Bowl of Punch, particularly the post “Celebrating Christmas and New Year with Punch.” This blog holds a wealth of information about punch, including recipes!

Friday, December 9, 2016

A New Christmas Tradition: Toys for Good Little Girls and Boys

A mid-19th c. doll from the Alice’s collection
“‘Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents,’ grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.” The link between Christmas and presents, made in the famous first line of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, seems like an obvious one. But when Alcott published Little Women in 1868, this idea was still relatively new. The practice of giving children presents—and specifically, toys—was, like many of our other Christmas customs, a product of the early 19th century. It came out of shifts in the way Christmas was celebrated, along with changes in how childhood was viewed, in Europe and North America.

This subject first came to my attention through a post on the blog JSTOR Daily, which references a recent article by historian Joseph Wachelder. He examined issues of the London daily newspaper The Morning Chronicle from 1800 to 1827, and found a steady increase in advertisements for presents suitable for giving to children at Christmas. Many of these were toys with educational components, such as chemistry sets, “dissected maps” (geography puzzles), and games based on history and current events.

A scene of Christmas revelry from 1791
So what had happened to cause this development? First, how Christmas was being celebrated was starting to change. As Wachelder describes, in the 18th century, “Christmas was a public feast, characterized by revelry, wassailing, and abundant eating and drinking.” When gifts were given, they went from people of higher status to those lower on the social scale—from masters to servants, for example. December was a period of relative leisure, as the harvest was completed and food was still abundant. Christmas was also a time of sanctioned social inversion, when workers, servants, and peasants could demand special privileges from their superiors.

But gradually, over the course of the 19th century, Christmas became a domestic, family-oriented holiday. Historian Stephen Nissenbaum has argued (in his book The Battle for Christmas) that this change can be traced to the spread of wage labor and capitalist modes of production. For some urban workers, Christmas was just another day of work (think Bob Cratchit). For others, winter might well be a time of unemployment, as water-powered factories shut down until the spring thaw. “December’s leisure thus meant not relatively plenty but forced unemployment and want. The Christmas season, with its carnival traditions of wassail, misrule, and callithumpian ‘street theater,’ could easily become a vehicle of social protest, an instrument to express powerful ethnic or class resentments.”

A child-centered Victorian Christmas
To forestall this possibility, elites adopted new Christmas customs that moved celebrations inside the family circle. It was during this period that many of our current Christmas traditions were introduced: decorated trees, Christmas cards, Santa Claus—and presents for children. As it happened, understandings of childhood and the role of play were also changing during this period. Of course, playthings of various kinds—dolls, tops, marbles, and the like—had existed for centuries, but the idea that playing with toys was an essential part of a child’s development was a product of the late 18th century.

Portrait of the Edgeworth family by Adam Buck, 1787.
As the second oldest of a family of 22(!), Maria
had plenty of experience with children.
Joseph Wachelder points to the book Practical Education by Maria and Richard Lovell Edgeworth, published in 1798, as a key moment in the history of toys and childhood. Edgeworth brought together two strands of thought on the nature of childhood: John Locke’s view of children as “blank slates” who could be shaped and guided by their parents, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s belief that children should be able to develop their natural character through self-directed experiences and play. Maria Edgeworth suggested that toys were the ideal medium through which parents could steer the education of their children. She argued that children “require to have things which exercise their senses of their imagination, their imitative and inventive powers.” Toys should not be expensive or too precious to be used, but should “invite play and discovery,” and if they were broken in the process, at least children would learn something about what was inside and how they worked.

A Chinese Puzzle, one of the toys advertised
in the Morning Chronicle, 1817
Wachelder’s study of the Morning Chronicle suggests that publishers and booksellers were some of the first businesses to jump on the Christmas toy bandwagon. Books, of course, were ideal Christmas presents, being both entertaining and educational, but publishers also soon began producing a variety of games and puzzles. Some of these, like “The Battle of Waterloo,” introduced in 1816, were clearly designed to capitalize on current events, while others tapped into the popular sciences of chemistry and astronomy (“Accum’s Chemical Amusement” promised that its experiments were “easily performed and unattended by danger”). Toys that produced optical illusions, such as kaleidoscopes and thaumatropes, were also very popular.

Over time, more and more toys would be available for purchase, thanks to technological developments and the continuing sentimentalization of childhood. By the second half of the 19th century, it was difficult for many people to imagine a Christmas that didn’t include toys. So as you’re out searching for Hatchimals this holiday season, remember that you are participating in a tradition that stretches back 200 years!


Joseph Wachelder, “Toys, Christmas Gifts, and Consumption Culture in London’s Morning Chronicle, 1800-1827,” Icon Vol. 19, Special Issue Playing with Technology: Sports and Leisure (2013), pp. 13-32

Stephen Nissenbaum, The Battle for Christmas: A Social and Cultural History of Our Most Cherished Holiday (Vintage, 1997)

Maria Edgeworth and Richard Lovell Edgeworth, Practical Education (First American edition, 1801)


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

New York State History Month: Silas Arnold’s War of 1812 Musket

Silas Arnold’s musket on the right
As I was planning my blog posts for New York State History Month, I wanted to make sure that I covered a range of time periods and experiences with the three items I chose. Ending with the musket used in the War of 1812 by Silas Arnold of Keeseville seemed like the perfect conclusion. We’d have items worn overseas during World War I (Loren Bundy’s uniform) and items collected in Washington, D.C. and Virginia during the Civil War (Charles Moore’s photographs), and then finally an item used right here in Clinton County during the Battle of Plattsburgh: an 1804 Springfield Model 1795 flintlock musket with bayonet.

However, when I began to research the history of the musket, I found that things were not quite what they seemed. First, I wanted to know more about Silas Arnold himself. A quick search revealed that Arnold was born on May 4, 1801, which would have made him just thirteen years old at the time of the Battle of Plattsburgh on September 11, 1814. Of course, boys in their teens did participate in the battle—the students from Plattsburgh Academy who formed Aikin’s Rifle Company or Aikin’s Volunteers. But there’s no indication that Silas Arnold was part of this group; he was not one of the seventeen young men presented a rifle by the U.S. House of Representatives in 1826.

Engraved plate from rifle presented to Martin Ai(t)kin
The second thing I learned about Silas Arnold that made me question his participation in the Battle of Plattsburgh was his Quaker background. It isn’t entirely clear whether the Arnold family were formal members of the Society of Friends, but Silas’s parents, Elisha and Mary Arnold, were buried in the Quaker Union cemetery in Peru. Silas’s obituary notes that he had “inherit[ed] to a large degree some of the best of the principles of the Friends, among whom he was born, and his early years passed.” Pacifism is a key element of Quaker belief, and neither Elisha nor Silas Arnold are listed among the men of Peru who served in battle, as recorded in the History of Clinton and Franklin Counties

Silas Arnold House, Main Street, Keeseville
Perhaps the strongest evidence against Silas Arnold having fought in the Battle of Plattsburgh is that his obituaries do not mention it. When he died in January 1879, both the Essex County Republican and the Plattsburgh Republican published lengthy accounts of Arnold’s life, which seems to have been pleasantly uneventful. Of his early years, the Essex County Republican said only that he “passed his boyhood and youth upon the farm, and engaged in the business pursuits of his father.” Elisha Arnold had discovered a bed of iron ore on a tract of land between Peru and Schuyler Falls, the income from which gave Silas a comfortable start in life. In 1840, he moved to Keeseville with his wife, Gulielma (daughter of Richard Keese, another early Quaker settler), son Elias, and daughter Mary Anna. Here he continued in business and became president of the Essex County Bank and a trustee of the Keeseville Academy. He purchased a home that had been built around 1820 by Dr. Caleb Barton and had it remodeled in the fashionable Greek Revival style by local architects Seneca and Isaac Perry. 

According to the Plattsburgh Republican,He was a genial and kindly man, and had a vast deal of quiet humor.... He possessed a singularly even temperament, and though resolute, his voice was never raised in anger nor his pulse quickened by excitement.” In his later years, his greatest pleasure was to spend time in the Adirondacks, camping and fishing on Saranac Lake. His life was not without trouble—his beloved daughter Mary Anna died in 1862 at the age of 29, shortly after her marriage to Winslow C. Watson, Jr., and he lost his wife in 1875. The picture of Silas Arnold that emerges from these accounts that of a devoted husband and father, a respected and prosperous citizen—but not a soldier.

A. G. Fletcher’s notes regarding his donation
So where did this story originate? It seems to have started with the person who donated the musket to Alice T. Miner: A. G. Fletcher of Keeseville. A note in the museum’s files, written by Fletcher, states “Flint Lock Musket—carried in Battle of Plattsburgh by Arnold given to me by Silas Arnold Keeseville N.Y.” At the same time, he also donated a “Flint Lock Pistol same age & given by Arnold.” Was this a case of misunderstanding on Fletcher’s part? Did Silas Arnold give him a musket and pistol that had been used in the Battle of Plattsburgh, but by someone else? Did Fletcher believe that associating these items with Silas Arnold enhanced their value? Any early-19th century firearm would be of historical interest; one used in the region’s most significant military engagement would be even more so; and if it were used by a prominent local citizen, even better.

Muskets of this type were used during the War of 1812, so it’s not impossible that this one was in fact used during the Battle of Plattsburgh. Beyond that, we may never know for sure, unless additional information comes to light (and if you know anything, please contact us!). As it stands now, the musket, along with the pistol, serves as a cautionary tale about uncritically accepting the stories that come attached to so many historical relics. These stories may not necessarily be unreliable, but they do need to be verified using other sources.

This story brings us to the official end of New York State History Month for 2016, but we will continue to highlight the people and events of our region throughout the rest of the year, and into 2017!


Thursday, November 17, 2016

New York State History Month: Charles Moore’s Civil War Photographs

Carte de visite of Charles Moore,
taken at Gates’ Studio, Plattsburgh
In our last New York State History Month post, we looked at the uniform worn by Chazy native Loren S. Bundy during his World War I military service. This week, we travel back to the 19th century and a collection of photographs assembled during the Civil War by Lieutenant Charles F. Moore (1843-1877). You may be familiar with the letters Charles wrote to his family during the war, which are on display at the museum and are featured on our website. The 108 photos that were donated with the letters give us a more complete picture of his wartime experience.

These small photos, each about 2.5” x 4”, were known as cartes de visite because they were the same size as calling or visiting cards, and they were wildly popular in the 1860s among both soldiers and civilians. Originally, the photographs would have been stored in an album designed especially for the display of cartes de visite, like the one seen here from the Alice’s collection. In these albums, American collectors during the Civil War mingled photos of relatives and politicians, friends and generals. These albums were not just books of personal memories; they were documents that allowed people to construct their own narratives of the war and, in the north especially, they became vehicles for the expression of national identity.

Carte de visite album. Andrew Johnson on the left,
Tom Thumb’s wedding on the right.
The carte de visite format was patented in 1854 by Parisian photographer André-Adolphe-Eugène Disderi. By using a sliding plate holder and a camera with four lenses, eight negatives could be taken on a single 8” x 10” glass plate. That allowed eight prints to be made every time the negative was printed, making it a more economical form of photography. Mounted on card and without the bulky frames or glass of ambrotypes and daguerrotypes, cartes could easily be sent through the mail and exchanged. Cartes de visite were introduced in the United States in the summer of 1859, and their popularity was given a tremendous boost by the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, as soldiers and their families posed for portraits prior to separation.

Lt. Col. Frank Palmer
Charles Moore wrote to his father less than a week after the attack on Fort Sumter that he was planning to enlist, saying “I never can stay here and see those stars and stripes dragged in the dust by a band of traitors.” A month later, in May 1861, he was sworn in as Quartermaster Sergeant in the 16th Regiment, New York Infantry. Many local men were also in the 16th New York, including Frank Palmer, Charles’s brother Pliny, and his cousin Royal Corbin. Moore was discharged from the 16th Infantry in December 1861 and there is a break in his letters. They pick up again in June of 1863, at which point he had joined the 16th New York Cavalry, where he would remain for the duration of the war. For most of his service, he was stationed in Washington, D.C. and northern Virginia.

Moore came from a family with strong ties to the north country and its military history. His father, Amasa Corbin Moore, was the son of Pliny Moore, one of the founders of Champlain, and his mother, Charlotte Mooers, was the daughter of General Benjamin Mooers, commander of the New York Militia at the Battle of Plattsburgh. He proudly wrote to his mother to tell her how he had been introduced to the colonel of his regiment: “Mr. Charles F. Moore of Troy, son of Col. A. C. Moore of Plattsburgh and grandson of General Benjamin Mooers who commanded the Battle of Plattsburgh. Very good, don’t you think so?”

Reverse of carte de visite
The photographs assembled by Charles Moore are typical of carte de visite collections of the Civil War era. Not surprisingly, there are many photos of Abraham Lincoln and Union generals—McClellan, Halleck, Scott, Butler, as well as lesser-known figures like Erasmus Keyes and Israel Richardson. There are politicians like Andrew Johnson and Schuyler Colfax, and celebrities like Kit Carson and Ram Singh II, the Rajah of Jaipur. Cartes de visite of this type were sold by all photography studios, and cost about twenty-five cents. A number of the photos in Moore’s collection have stamps on the back indicating that the prints were made from negatives in Matthew Brady’s National Portrait Gallery. Brady sold his catalog of portrait negatives to the E. and L. Anthony company in 1861, and by 1862, they were producing 3,200 cartes de visite per day.

W. H. Walling, 16th NY Volunteers.
Moore recorded that Walling “captured
the Rebel flag from the parapet of
Ft. Fisher,” a Confederate stronghold
in North Carolina.
The majority of the photographs, however, seem to be of men that Charles Moore knew personally, either fellow soldiers in the 16th New York or other military acquaintances. Many of them are signed and bear the messages “Respectfully” or “Yours Truly.” By exchanging photographs, soldiers strengthened the bonds of friendship and brotherhood. Photos served as reminders of absent friends, and memorials to those who had died. They reminded men of why they were fighting–for loved ones at home, and for their comrades on the field.

After the war, Charles Moore returned to Troy, where he was a clerk in an insurance office. Eventually he went into partnership as an insurance broker with A. G. Peck; later he went into the real estate brokerage business and engaged in some very successful land speculation. But in November 1877, the shocking news that Moore had committed suicide reached his hometown. The newspaper report in the Troy Whig, reprinted in the Plattsburgh Sentinel, attributed Moore’s suicide to a “miasmatic fever” which, “together with overwork, doubtless caused temporary mental derangement.” It’s impossible to say now whether Moore had any kind of long-term mental health issues as a result of his combat experience, but recent research has shown that some Civil War veterans did exhibit symptoms that we would now identify as signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. At the time, however, these problems were labeled as “melancholia” or “mania”–or not acknowledged at all.

Charles Moore’s photograph collection gives a human face to the sometimes abstract image of war. And his life reminds us that even when soldiers return home, their stories don’t always have a happy ending. 


Andrea L. Volpe, “The Cartes de Visite Craze,” New York Times (August 6, 2013).

Christa Holm Vogelius, “Family Albums of War: Carte de Visite Collections in the Civil War Era,” Common-place Vol. 16 no. 1 (Fall 2015).

“A Brief History of the Carte de Visite,” American Museum of Photography. Part of the online exhibit Small Worlds: The Art of the Carte de Visite.

Tony Horwitz, “Did Civil War Soldiers Have PTSD?” Smithsonian Magazine (January 2015).


Thursday, November 10, 2016

New York State History Month: Loren Bundy’s World War I Uniform

Each November, we mark New York State History Month with a series of blog posts on items from the Alice’s collection that have a connection to the state. In 2014, we looked at early-19th century transferware depicting scenes from locations in New York State, and in 2015, our theme was items made in New York. This year, we will be featuring items associated with the military service of three New York men.

The Bundys’ cottage in Chazy
Photo from Miner Institute Archives
We begin with a uniform worn by Loren S. Bundy of Chazy during World War I. The son of Leon and Kate Bundy, Loren was born in Vermont in 1896. Around 1910, the family moved to Chazy, where Leon Bundy became the head of the construction department at Heart’s Delight Farm. Loren Bundy (then working as a bookkeeper in Hudson Falls, NY) registered for the draft in 1917 and was inducted into the army at Plattsburgh in September of that year. He then went to Camp Devens in Massachusetts for training, and arrived in France in late July 1918—just a little over three months before the end of the war. He returned to the United States in June 1919. 

Coat, breeches, puttees, and overseas cap
Service coat. Red chevron indicates honorable
discharge; lower chevron is for overseas service.
The basic components of the uniform issued to Loren Bundy and other men who served in the US Army during World War I had been developed in the early 20th century in response to changing needs and conditions that had become evident during the Spanish-American War. New materials—khaki cotton for summer and olive drab wool for winter—were introduced as well as new styles of clothing. The museum holds four pieces of Bundy’s uniform: a khaki service coat or blouse, olive drab breeches, puttees (strips of cloth that were wrapped around the lower legs), and an overseas cap. The complete uniform also would have included a shirt, campaign hat (worn in the United States but replaced in France by the overseas cap), steel helmet, trench coat, and hobnailed shoes. In addition, Bundy would have carried a haversack to hold his tent, blanket, canteen, mess kit, entrenching tool (i.e., a shovel) and other equipment. He also would have been issued a gas mask in its own bag.

Bundy would have learned how to use all this equipment, as well as his weapons, during training at Camp Devens in eastern Massachusetts. Established in 1917, Camp Devens was the primary training center for the northeast region during World War I—over 100,000 men were trained there, and another 150,000 passed through when the camp became a separation center in 1918. Camp Devens was the home of the 76th Division, made up of troops drafted mainly from New England; the division consisted of two infantry brigades, one field artillery brigade, engineers regiments, signal battalions, field hospital units, and Loren Bundy’s unit, the 301st Supply Train. He was assigned to Company B, under the command of Lieutenant John L. Fox.

Souvenir postcard folder from Camp Devens
Sylvester Benjamin Butler, a captain in the 301st, kept a scrapbook of his WWI experiences, and his family has put some of his letters and other mementos online, giving us a glimpse into life at Camp Devens and in France. (Butler also did his officer’s training at Plattsburgh.) Upon their arrival in France, the 301st was stationed in the village of St. Armand-Montrond. Butler wrote of it, “All the houses are of stone or cement, & those not right in town are of one story only beside the attic. They seem located in such higglety-pigglety fashion, which the prevalence of high walls only serves to accentuate. The people are most cordial and welcome the American troops into their homes & buildings. The men are all trying hard to get the language. We fortunately have quite a few French speakers. The little French children are delightful; they are all learning the American salute and they do like to be noticed.” Censorship regulations prevented him from describing the unit’s military activities,  but as he reminded his mother, “I don’t want you to forget if I write all about people & scenery & white cows that I’m not on a Cook’s Tour or an Agricultural Experimentation Board.”

Loren Bundy’s overseas cap with MTC insignia
Butler reported that in March 1919, part of Company B had been “sent up to Vendonne [Vendôme] on special duty as a MTC detachment with the 6th Cavalry.” The MTC, or Motor Transport Corps, was established in August 1918 to procure, record, and maintain all motorized transport for the armed forces. Loren Bundy must have been part of this group, because the insignia on his collar and overseas cap is the winged helmet of the MTC, rather than the “T” of the Artillery and Supply Trains.

By the summer of 1919, Loren Bundy and many of his fellow Clinton County servicemen were back in New York. Tucked into the pocket of his uniform was the ticket for a “Mother’s Seat” at the county’s Welcome Home Celebration, issued to Kate Bundy. This extravaganza, held in Plattsburgh on August 5, deserves a post of its own. It started with a parade in which more than 1500 returned Clinton County soldiers, marines, and sailors marched, along with Civil War and Spanish-American War veterans. They were followed by some three dozen floats constructed by towns, businesses, and organizations, which depicted everything from a Red Cross tent to a model of a NC-4 airplane large enough to hold the entire Lynch-Bourdeau Orchestra.

Advertisement from the Adirondack Record
August 1, 1919
The parade ended at the Normal School campus, where everyone assembled and local lawyer Charles J. Vert gave an address. Afterwards, the “doughboys” were served a turkey dinner, and then the crowd shifted to the barracks, where spectators had the opportunity to see several boxing and wrestling matches, as well as a baseball game between the Post team and Port Henry. In the evening, there were two concerts in downtown Plattsburgh, followed by a fireworks display and finally dancing on Clinton Street until midnight. As the Daily Press concluded its coverage, “THUS ENDED A PERFECT DAY.”

For Loren Bundy, life seemed to return to normal after the excitement of the Welcome Home Celebration. He went to live in Poughkeepsie and married Violet Mandeville, a teacher originally from Lockport, NY, and they had a son, Leon Meade Bundy. In 1931 the family returned to Clinton County, eventually settling in Plattsburgh, where Loren worked as a teller for the Plattsburgh National Bank for thirty years. In 1942, he once again registered for the draft, though at the age of 46 he was unlikely to be called into service. This time, it was his son who joined the US Navy. Loren died in 1974 at the age of 77; he and Violet are buried in Riverview Cemetery in Chazy.

Although the United States’ involvement in World War I was relatively brief, it had a lasting effect on the men who served in the military. New York sent more soldiers to fight in WWI than any other state; New Yorkers represented about 10% of all US troops. Then there were the thousands of New Yorkers who worked as nurses, as members of voluntary associations, and at home on the farms and in the factories. The many new agencies created within the federal government to address the demands of wartime would change Americans’ relationship with the state; the suffrage movement received new impetus from the involvement of women in the war; and the Great Migration of African-Americans from the south to the urban centers of the north would produce new cultural and political movements. New York State—from the city to small towns like Chazy—would play an important role in all of these changes.