20130416114841_00003One of the early A Fine Collection posts concerned a small book that belonged to Margaret Beall (1817-1901), life-time resident of the Beall-Dawson House (now our museum).  In that post I noted how excited we (well, I and my intern) were to discover it, in a collection of uncataloged books, particularly as we have little enough of Margaret’s belongings.  And it’s happened again!  This time, our exciting discovery comes thanks to a donation from one of Margaret’s cousin’s descendants.

Harry A. Dawson (1874-1944), son of Margaret’s cousin Amelia Somervell Dawson, grew up in the Beall-Dawson House.  He married Mary “Polly” Hoff in 1901; eventually they settled into a house a few blocks away from Harry’s childhood home, where his father and sisters still lived, and the branches of the Dawson family remained close. Recently, Harry and Polly’s granddaughter (also named Polly) donated a variety of artifacts, including books; most belonged to Polly Hoff Dawson, but among them was a copy of Early Days of Washington (1899).  This was a nice surprise – it’s a rare-ish book (though there are ebook versions) – but even better was this note inside:

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A little Birth Day token of love for dear Cousin Margaret J. Beall with the earnest hope that there may be in store for her many more happy Birth Days.  Her loving Cousin – Louis Mackall  May 30 1900

The author, Sally Somervell Mackall, was another of Margaret’s many cousins, and much of her book describes the extended Beall-Somervell-Mackall-etc. family’s posh social life in Georgetown in the early 19th century.  Early Days of Washington contains a few stories about Margaret’s father, Upton Beall, and is particularly notable for being the only place to see an image of Upton; a photograph of a painted miniature appears on page 65.  (The pastel portrait in our museum is not an original; it was copied from this image, in the 1980s.)  Though we have the book in our library and we’re familiar with its contents, I think there’s something rather special about having Margaret’s own volume.

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Unfortunately, Mr. Mackall’s wish for his cousin did not come true; Margaret died on April 18, 1901, a few weeks short of her 85th birthday.  But as far as we know, she was still active in 1900 despite her relative age – after all, the census that year described her not as “keeping house” or with “no occupation,” but as a “capitalist” – and I’d like to think that she enjoyed reading about her father and his cronies back in the day.  I do wish she’d made some editorial comments in the book, anything that might help us to confirm or deny Sally Mackall’s anecdotal stories… but you can’t have everything.

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