Today we have a 19th century spinning wheel, used for spinning flax into thread. The treadle-operated Saxony wheel, developed in Europe in the 16th century, is what people usually envision when they think “spinning wheel,” although there are in fact many different styles and designs. Like the other antique spinning wheels in our collections this one has lost some pieces over the years, so for any novice hand-spinners reading this blog, I don’t advise using this picture as a guide!

According to the donor, this flax wheel was owned by William Harding (1752-1820), originally of Montgomery County. While Harding probably did own the spinning wheel, it seems unlikely (though not impossible) that he was the one using it. This is one of those cases where we know more about the property-owning man than we do about the woman or women (free or enslaved) who actually used the property. However William Harding has a rather entertaining story, so in this instance the artifact is just a jumping off point (my apologies to the people who labored over this particular spinning wheel).

William Harding was the father of Ellen Harding, who married her cousin Elias Harding. Ellen and Elias were the parents of Mary Ann Harding (born in Montgomery County in 1805), whose 1824 portrait is in our collections. Thanks to research done on Mary Ann’s portrait, we know a little bit about her grandfather William, who appears to have been something of a rotten egg; apparently he was forced out of Maryland by his son, the Mayor of Frederick. William went to Kentucky with (or possibly he followed) his daughter Ellen and her family, and he died there in 1820. A descendant called William “a rounder,” and in an 1820 letter from Elias Harding to his mother, he described his father-in-law’s deathbed in a manner suggesting that  William’s final destination was in doubt:

“Old Wm. Harding is no more, he departed this life in February last and I hope his poor soul is in Paradise and the goodness of God, notwithstanding the general conduct of his life. . . . My dear little wife [interestingly, he refers here to his second wife, not William’s daughter Ellen who died in 1814], by his bedside undertook to put up her petitions for him and wrestled Jacob-like for nearly two hours. The whole congregation was melted down in tears. At last the poor old man raised his hands and eyes towards Heaven and said he was willing to die; there was a very perceivable change in his countenance and we have a hope that he is at rest.”

I wish I could tell you what Mr. Harding did that was so objectionable, but research has not discovered it yet. I find it kind of funny that the only artifact known to have survived (at least in our collections) from this unspecifically-bad gentleman is an innocuous* spinning wheel.

* “Sleeping Beauty” and “Rumpelstiltskin” notwithstanding, I can’t think of much evil he could get up to with a flax wheel.

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