I’ve always loved the seventeenth-century poem by Ben Jonson It is not Growing like a Tree with its closing lines In small proportions we just beauties see; And in short measures, life may perfect be. It evokes the ephemeral perfection of late May and early June, when the bleak New England “Spring” finally ceases and we are rewarded with a burst of flowering amidst all that new, lush green. As I write this, at night, I’m still kind of cold, but it certainly is beautiful out. I got my garden under control last week: I lost some things but most of my very favorite plants are doing just fine, including the “ladies”, slippers and mantle. I take long walks on these long days, and pictures of everything beautiful, even plants I don’t really like. I’ve never been a rhododendron fan, and as those are peaking right now, it is difficult to avoid them: consequently I have included an unusual yellow variety. Peonies are also just too much for me, but who can resist capturing those show-offs now? I actually find irises creepy, but they are so colorful and fleetingly stalwart I snapped them too. So here is a portfolio of late spring/early summer flowers, primarily from my own garden, the Ropes Mansion garden, the Peirce-Nichols garden which is the place to go for Bleeding Heart at this time of year, and the Derby Garden at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, where the first of the peonies are just starting to pop. But you can spot flowers just walking down the streets of Salem at this time of year, along or through the cracks of an old fence.
I’m in the process of teaching myself how to create digital maps with layers of history so I can visualize different times, places, events and environments. Such maps are a great teaching tool, and I also think it would be a great way to put all of the discoveries I’ve made while blogging into a more compact form. “Spatial history” is a very big trend in historical interpretation and the digital humanities, but it’s going to take me quite some time to reach this level of presentation. I thought I’d start small with a series of maps of Salem with one layer each: how many first period houses survived in say, 1890, houses of notable women of Salem from different periods, and houses (or locations) where enslaved people lived and worked before the abolition of slavery in Massachusetts in 1783. I decided to start with the latter topic because I thought it would be manageable, but it is not: there were far more enslaved people in colonial Salem than I thought—but this makes it all the more important that we place them.
I’m still working on my “data set”, having searched through newspapers (for both “for sale” and “runaway” advertisement, vital statistics, and the amazing 1754 census at the Phillips Library in ROWLEY (yes, I’ve been there; I will report later). The latter breaks down Salem’s residents into five categories: “rateable”, males under 16, females, widows, and negroes, and according to its survey, there were 3462 people in Salem in 1754, of which 123 were African-Americans. The word “slave” is never used; only servant. There are discrepancies between this survey, the advertisements, and the vital statistics, so I’m not sure how I’m going to be able to come up with an absolutely accurate number: this might have to evolve into a collective or crowd-sourced project. I’ve identified some of the larger slave-owning families though: an analysis of their papers (most are also in the Phillips) would undoubtedly reveal more information
All Essex Gazette
EnquireofthePrinter. Runaway slave advertisements are very detailed; for sale notices less so. It’s almost as if people don’t want to give their names out, with some notable exceptions, like Captain David Britton, who was definitely more than personally invested in this trade. The map will require me to place the enslavers and the enslaved, but I don’t have much information on Britton: all I’ve found so far is a reference in Phyllis Whitman Hunter’s Purchasing Identity in the Atlantic World. Massachusetts Merchants, 1670-1780 to his membership in a Salem club called “The Civil Society” which met at a local inn on Tuesdays and Fridays ” for friendship and conversation”. There were club rules against cursing and unrefined behavior, but apparently not against slave-trading.
Boston Evening Post and Essex Gazette
Once you start researching this topic, it shapes how you look at your environment. I’m sure people in the South are used to this, but not people in New England. There were enslaved people in the House of the Seven Gables, and the very wealthy merchant Aaron Waite, whose long partnership with Jerathmiel Pierce has inspired the naming of Salem Maritime’s gift shop, enslaved at least one person, named Pompey. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s great-grandfather Jonathan Phelps, let out both his blacksmith shop and his “excellent workman” in 1773. Several enslaved men were compelled to work for their master Samuel Barnard in the Ropes Mansion, and he also loaned them out to his nephew way out in Deerfield. Richard Derby owned at least one slave, as did William Browne, Jonathan Clarke, Daniel King, Edward Kitchen, Josiah Orne, William Pynchon, and Bezaleel Toppan, and many more residents of mid-eighteenth-century Salem, both wealthy merchants and less conspicuous craftsmen. The fabulously wealthy Samuel Gardner (1712-1769), whose house was located on the corner of Essex and Crombie Streets and whose many possessions are easy to find in auction archives and museum collections, listed several enslaved men among his possessions in his will: he left his “Negro boy Titus, as a servant for life” to his “beloved wife Elizabeth”, but freed a man named Isaac, adding the provision that if Isaac was “unable to support himself, that he be supported by my sons George, Weld, and Henry, in equal shares…..so as to free the Town of Salem from any charge”.
Samuel Gardner’s sugar box, collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
My calendar version of the photographic “golden hour” is late August: everything seems warmer and softer, yet somehow more vivid. It’s not as hot and humid and you can feel a touch of fall in the evening breezes. Cotton-sweater-weather. The days seem precious because they are numbered, not so much by the end of summer (I firmly believe that the end of the summer comes in late September–especially now) but by the beginning of the fall semester, which I have experienced my entire life except for one year. It’s been such a busy summer for me that these last few slow days of August are especially welcome–I’m not doing much with them except for existing really: casual deadheading, aimless walks, leafing through magazines, cocktails. That’s about it. Because I was so busy this summer, fall is going to seem tame by comparison, so maybe the golden hour will be a bit longer than usual.
Late August in Salem:
My August garden is basically white at this time of year…Trinity outside and in….the peaking Ropes Garden……………
The real Golden Hour, out in Salem Harbor….and off Marblehead….
whimsical posters for the Salem Farmers’ Market by Jesse Ciarmataro of H5P Creative Studio….and one of Marice Prendergast’s Salem paintings, which capture the spirit of this time of year.
Farmers’ Market posters, Jesse Ciarmataro/ H5P Creative Studio: Maurice Prendergast, Salem Cove, 1916, National Gallery of Art.
I’m sorry that my posts are short and spare these days, with more space between them: this is the busiest time of the year for me. The spring semester is technically “over”, but it dies a lingering death: with reports to write, two commencements and many meetings to attend. I want to spend as much time in my garden, which is overrun with violets, but can only snatch an hour or two each day. The weather has been very erratic here: rainy and raw last weekend, followed by lots of sun and very hot days, then a big cool-down. It ranged from 90-something degrees to 60 degrees at the end of the week: on Thursday night I sweated through our graduate commencement wearing my polyester and velvet academic regalia in an un-air-conditioned gymnasium, but yesterday I was pretty comfortable, even a bit chilly. Fortunately, it’s a beautiful time of year, so even though I don’t have much to say to you at the moment I have lots to show you: some shots of the most beautiful May flowers in my garden and around my neighborhood. We have shifted from the pink period of spring into a mostly-white-with-purple-accents phase, with many more colors to come.
Trillium, lungworts, anemones and lillies of the valley in my garden above; viburnam, wisteria and irises at the Ropes Garden below, along with the best viburnam hedge in Salem along Federal Court and Solomon’s Seal in the Peirce-Nichols garden.
P.S. I did see some real mayflowers in the Salem Woods a few weeks ago but unfortunately did not take a picture!
I know, Summer doesn’t really end until September 20, but I’ve lived and worked on an academic schedule for my entire life, so believe me when I say that Summer ends on Labor Day. This year I have mixed feelings: on the one hand, I worked all summer teaching and doing various administrative tasks (not, unfortunately, writing, except for here), so it seems like there never was a summer in academic terms. So who cares, bring Fall on. On the other hand, because I didn’t really have a summer (again–in academic terms: I know how privileged I am), these last few days are even more poignant. Whatever–it’s over–as I write this I am sitting in an empty classroom awaiting transfer registration. September is one of my favorite months (October would be too if I didn’t happen to live in WITCH CITY), and because the month is so beautiful, I always have this idea that I’m going to make my garden last through it rather than just giving up and ceasing all garden activities.My garden actually looks pretty good, as we are not under a water ban here unlike many towns in Essex County. I water sparingly, because I feel kind of guilty doing it, but it’s pretty green back there if lacking in color.Unfortunately I am not crazy about late summer/early fall flowers: dahlias are too showy, and sedum too………fibrous (succulents creep me out, for some reason). I found a few other plants to replenish my garden up at PettingillFarm the other day, but it’s never going to look like the ultimate late-summer garden at the Ropes Mansion.
Late Summer flowers at Pettengill Farm in Salisbury and the Ropes Mansion, Salem. I had planned to go to the Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston on Friday to see the amazing floral/architectural paper creations of Tiffanie Turner but now I see that they are not there! So disappointed. I might just start to like dahlias: hers look like floral armor for the challenges of Fall.
I like several varieties of plants in the large mallow (malvaceae) family, most particularly the older common varieties rather than the showy hollyhocks and hibiscus which are really too big for my garden. There are musk mallows and malva sylvestris at the front of one border, but in the back is my very favorite: marsh mallow, or althaea officinalis. This is an old, fabled plant which is tall and velvety, with soft pink flowers, appearing just about now. Like all plants which officinalis status, marsh mallow was an important medicinal plant in the ancient, medieval, and early modern eras, the basis of soothing syrups and balms for throats, stomachs, skin–even teeth. The marsh mallow plant had edible uses in the past too: its sap was extracted and mixed with nuts and honey (and later sugar and corn syrup) to make a confection, and its root was boiled for use in both sweets and “sallets”. Modern marshmallows have no marsh mallow in them, but several “organic” skin creams do. I looked in vain through my sixteenth-sources for a sweet marsh mallow recipe, but found it as a principal ingredient in one of the recipes to cure lovesickness in Jacques Ferrand’s classic seventeenth-century treatise. So there you are: a plant that is both utilitarian and beautiful.
Above: my marsh mallows. Below, hollyhocks in the Ropes Mansion Garden–I’m showing you close-ups rather than the entire plants because they seem to be stricken with some sort of rusty disease. My other mallows have this too–not very attractive–but the marsh mallows seem immune!
Salem-born Fidelia Bridges’ Marsh Mallows, produced for Prang in the 1880s, New York Public Library Digital Gallery.
I don’t know if you noticed the photograph of old recipes on the kitchen table in the Ropes Mansion in my last post: no worries, I’ll put it in this one. At the bottom of one piece of paper is the beginning of a recipe for “Shaking Quaker Pudding”–only the beginning, unfortunately, which set me off on a strange quest. As a descendant of a Shaker (I know–Shakers were/are celibate–how can they have descendants? Well, after he had had his family, my great-great-great? grandfather Calver sold everything at auction over in England and departed for New Lebanon, New York in the nineteenth century: we have the auction poster to prove it) I knew immediately that the reference was to the Shakers, who have developed quite a foodie reputation over the past few years, in addition to their long-established renown for furniture, seeds and herbal tonics. I thought it would be easy to find the rest of the recipe but when I first googled “Shaker Pudding” I came up with Jello Shake-a-Pudding! I can’t imagine anything less Shaker-ish, really. Then I found a British pudding called “Shaker Quaker” Pudding, but it did not start out with the “stone raisins” line of the Ropes recipe. Finally I found the entire Shaking Quaker recipe, in Mrs. J. Chadwick’s Home Cookery: A Collection of Tried Receipts, Both Foreign and Domestic (1853). So here it is:
and bake for half an hour!
The digitized version of Mrs. Chadwick’s cookbook cut off the recipe as well, but fortunately I found another source. All this work for a raisin custard bread pudding (the Shaker Quaker puddings seem to omit the bread) which I doubt I will ever make (unless I add lots of rum or bourbon). However, I did discover several recipes that did tempt me, especially “Shaker Lemon Pie”, apparently a favorite of Martha Stewart’s. And the pudding shaker.
The delicious-looking Shaker Lemon Pie–made with thin lemon slices–is from the blog Love & Flour.
I’ve been anticipating the reopening of the Ropes Mansion for some time so it was with great excitement that I crossed the threshold yesterday for the first time in a decade or so: the house was shuttered for restoration after an accidental fire in 2009 and I remember it being a bit tired even before that. Not now: refreshed was the word that came into my mind almost as soon as I set foot in the front hall. It’s not just the new paint and paper (and absolutely beautiful carpets): it feels like the house’s spirit has been renewed. Most appropriately, the interpretation focuses on the Ropes family, who donated the house–as a Memorial— to the Peabody Essex Museum (then Essex Institute) in 1907, almost as much as the interior architectural features. Their possessions are all around you as you walk through the rooms: their china, their pictures, their books, their trunks, their own memorials. There are touches of modern whimsy in several of the rooms which added to the overall feeling of renewal, and details, details, details, galore. I think I’ll have to go back again and again: it’s open every weekend this summer from noon until 4pm.
The house was built in 1727 but extensively remodeled in the 1890s, so it feels (to my untrained eye) almost like a perfect blend of the Colonial and the Colonial Revival. This was most apparent on the first floor: as you walk front to back you move forward in time–from 1727 (or more precisely 1830, the date of the Asher Benjamin-influenced entrance) to the perfectly-preserved 1894 kitchen, with all its “new” equipment. Two dining rooms on the right–or I suppose a breakfast room and dining room decorated in a later 19th-century style–and on the left a double parlor with an amazing front-to-back fireplace. I’ve always loved this room, and when I walked into it yesterday it instantly reminded me of one of my favorite architectural drawings: Arthur Little’s sketch of the parlor of the long-lost Benjamin Pickman house further up Essex Street, from his (now-reissued by Historic New England) 1878 book Early New England Interiors. And for cupboard connoisseurs, the first floor of the Ropes Mansion is heaven, with fully-stocked butler’s and kitchen pantries and dining-room china cabinet.
The Benjamin Pickman House Parlor by Arthur Little, Old New England Interiors, 1878. Courtesy of Historic New England.
The second floor of the Ropes Mansion is even more intimately interpreted than the first, with one side of the house devoted to lavishly-recreated bedrooms and the other side to displays of possessions, some quite touching: I was struck particularly by a leather fire bucket (after all, this was a family, and this is a house, that experienced three major fires: besides the 2009 fire, there was a fire during the 1894 restoration and most tragically Abigail Pickman Ropes died in 1839 after her dress caught fire on this very floor–the posthumous portrait of Abigail by Charles Osgood is also on view) as well as a lovely watercolor memorial wreath dedicated to the memory of Abigail’s niece, Elizabeth Ropes Orne, who died of consumption at age 24 in 1842 (see her own sketches here). The bedrooms with their canopy beds are lovely: one rather ghostly and/or innocent, the other displaying a much more vibrant reproduction textile, and there is a fully-outfitted bathroom in the 1894 back of the house, just as “modern” as the kitchen below. Altogether a beautiful house bearing testimony to lives lived: the best kind of memorial.
A true Ropes Memorial: watercolor memorial wreath for Elizabeth Ropes Orne by her former teacher, Eliza B. Davis, who presented it to Elizabeth’s mother Sally in 1851. Elizabeth’s signature, presumably from a letter, is in the center.
“Georgian” can be a deceptive architectural designation, especially here in Salem: there are Georgian colonial houses built before the Revolution, and Georgian colonial revival houses which date from the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They might share the distinctive gambrel roof and other architectural details, but the proportions are often very different. Within the colonial category, it is readily apparent that “Georgian” is both a style and a period, and not all houses built in the period conform to the style. There is also the issue of construction conservatism: walking through my neighborhood I easily spotted many houses that looked “Georgian” to me, but they date from the 1780s and 1790s and even after 1800: now you can’t have a Georgian house after the end of King George’s rule, can you?
On this same walk, I did find several Georgian houses that conformed to both the style and the period, at a few more that left me confused (see below). This is just a sampling from the McIntire Historic District; I am omitting several of the iconic Georgian houses of Salem, including the Derby House, the Crowninshield–Bentley House, and the Miles WardHouse. No one could mistake these houses for anything but Georgian, but I have written about them before in various posts and doubtless will again. The houses below are hardly off the beaten track, but I haven’t featured (most of) them before.
Georgian corner: at the intersection of Essex and Cambridge Streets, the Ropes Mansion (later 1720s) faces the Capt. Thomas Mason House (1750).
Walking down Essex Street, there are smaller Georgian houses on either side of the street, and the amazing Cabot-Endicott-Low House, built in the 1740s for Salem merchant Joseph Cabot. The house remained in the Cabot family for more than a century, and was then purchased by William Endicott, Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and Secretary of War under President Grover Cleveland. The house is spectacular in terms of both scale and detail, and it has great outbuildings too. Unfortunately the other really stately, and unabashedly Georgian, house on Essex Street, the Lindall-Barnard-Andrews House (c. 1740, below) is not as well-preserved as its neighbors: the present owner maintains it as a commercial establishment, complete with vinyl siding and hot top parking lot on what was once fenced-in garden. I’ve never been inside, but its interior has been preserved in photographs, at least, and wallpaper taken from its walls is now in the collection of Winterthur. The beautiful fence that you see in the c. 1910 Detroit Publishing Company photograph below (Library of Congress) is long gone.
Over on Federal Street, there are houses that are both Georgian in period and style, and a few that require a bit more interpretation and expertise–a bit more than I have! I’m curious about the three houses below: they have Georgian elements, but as you can see, alterations have been made over time.
A narrow–and charmingly crooked!–house with a modified gambrel roof and a gambrel-roofed addition: is it Georgian in style and period? I’m not sure. And look at the brown house below: it has two roof styles in one! I wonder which one came first? I assume the gambrel. Apart from the roof, it looks like a mirror image of its neighbor, and that house’s plaque indicates that it is solidly Georgian, at least in period.
Back to where I began, the Ropes Mansion on Essex Street, where the gardens are in perfect high summer bloom.