Today we have a mahogany tea table from the late 18th century. That covers the material and its function; to expand the description, it is a tripod tilt-top birdcage table, in the Chippendale style, with a single-board top, wrythen-turned vase-shaped stem, cabriole legs, acanthus-leaf knees, and ball-and-claw feet. (It is not, however, a piecrust or dishtop table, as the tabletop has a plain edge.) It measures 27” tall, with a 35” diameter top; though it has no maker’s mark or other identifying features, it was likely American-made. If you’ve toured the Beall-Dawson House at any time since 1970, you’ve seen our table in the Parlor.

The Beall-Dawson parlor or drawing room, 1970; the tea table is at right, between the wing chairs.

The Beall-Dawson parlor or drawing room, 1970; the tea table is at right, between the wing chairs.

This particular form of table was developed in the late 18th century, part of a general move in the western world toward specialty-function furniture to suit leisure activities such as taking tea. Earlier examples are in the Queen Anne style, with later pieces veering into Chippendale. (More examples, and a better explanation, of both styles can be found on the Metropolitan Museum’s website.) Higher-end examples, like ours, boast a tilting top that made it easier to shift furniture out of the way when you needed floor space (this is still a useful feature; you may have spotted our table in flipped-up position during events and holiday displays, for example); even fancier is the addition of a “birdcage” mechanism which, when the wedge is removed, allows the top to rotate.

F0223, tilted


F0223, tilted, reverse

A bit of backstory before going into the particulars of this table’s history: The Bealls and Dawsons, two families related by marriage, lived in the Beall-Dawson House from its construction circa 1815 until the late 1930s. After the family left, the House was rented out to various tenants until the Dawson heirs sold the House to the Davis family in 1946. Mrs. Davis sold the House to the City of Rockville in 1965, and the Historical Society moved in shortly thereafter.

Depending on which 1960s catalog information one reads, our tea table was either found by the Davises in the Beall-Dawson House basement, or found by MCHS on the second floor of the Davis-built garage. (Personally, I’m inclined to combine those stories: it seems likely that the Davises found it in the basement, then moved it to the garage storage where we found it in our turn.) Though both of those stories place the table in the House prior to our own tenure, it could easily have been acquired by one resident or another in the 20th century. On the other hand, there’s nothing to say it’s not an original Beall family piece, so we have long assumed/hoped that it was probably owned by Upton Beall and/or his wife Jane (who outlived him). It’s certainly old enough; in fact it predates the House, and could have come from a parental estate, or perhaps was bought used by Upton or his wife. (Buying things from your neighbors at estate sales was as much a part of Montgomery County culture in the early 19th century as it is today.)

So, with the caution that we don’t really know that this was Upton’s tea table, I’ll tell you that Upton Beall’s estate inventory, taken after his death in 1827, includes “1 [undescribed] tea table.” Nothing on later inventories is specifically called a “tea table,” but there are plenty of “tables” to choose from – or perhaps it had already been relegated to uninventoried storage as too old-fashioned or broken for use. Based on the amount of stuff on those inventories, neither the Bealls nor the Dawsons were the get-rid-of-excess-furniture type; the final inventory, in 1937, mentions (but does not list the contents of) a “storage room” of furniture. It seems perfectly plausible that an old table, in bad condition, could have been stashed away somewhere in the House and then forgotten.

f0223 - cracks

Look again at the photos included throughout this post, and you can see that the table top is not really a flat plane; the top is a noticeably different color than the base; and the underside of the table top is kind of a hot mess. Both versions of the old-catalog stories note that the table was in sad shape when it was discovered, with a “cracked and warped top,” and that we “had the top refinished, but left the base alone.” What I’ve not been able to pin down is what was actually done to the table, other than what can be seen now with the naked eye: The top was stripped of its original patina . . . I’ll pause here for gasps of dismay from televised-antique-appraisal aficionados, who know better . . . and, at the end of the process, thoroughly coated with a modern varnish.  (If the top of the table looked anything like the underside, which is a peculiar matte black, I can sympathize with the desire to make it shiny again.) The cracks were filled in with some kind of adhesive or putty which, as you can see from the photo directly above, is starting to fail after 40 years of valiant effort. The braces on the underside were removed and reattached in a different direction, and two additional braces were added, likely to help reverse the warping of the top; the shadows of the original brace location and orientation of the square block, plus the old screw holes, are visible.  The new braces and (what I hope is the) original brass latching mechanism were reattached with shiny new screws.  And, yes, all of this is possibly horrifying to a modern-day furniture conservator, but was likely top of the line in the late 1960s.

Brass latching mechanism, which prevents an accidental, mid-meal table flip.

Brass latching mechanism, which prevents an accidental, mid-meal table flip. Note also the new screws; diagonal line where the brace originally sat; and an old screw hole for the brace, at far right.

As for the base, it does look essentially untouched, if that’s any consolation. The feet, in particular, show chips in the old varnish and the wood itself, but that’s to be expected of a 200+ year old table. And though in everyday lighting the base appears quite dark – particularly in comparison to the (perhaps overly) shiny top – when viewed closer, the mahogany color is still there under the old varnishes and oils.

Don't kick the table legs, kids

Don’t kick the table legs, kids

DSC09965 crop

If you like this table, there are lots of others to be enjoyed, both online and in your friendly neighborhood museums.  A good tea table is practically a staple of the Georgian/Federal-era house museum (I can say that because we have one). Check out large art museums as well; a few tables are in the new(ish) furniture galleries at the National Gallery of Art, and here’s an online listing of tea tables at the Met.  Auction houses, antique galleries, and collectors also feature a variety of Queen Anne and Chippendale tea tables on their websites.  Happy viewing!


Today we have a pair of andirons, made of either cast or wrought iron (more on that in a bit), of known provenance but uncertain date.


These fellows are utilitarian, but not plain. Their public side, so to speak, consists of a Doric column topped by a grim little face; the feet are curved brackets, ornamented with a bit of scrollwork.


Though they look rather primitive, much of that likely stems from the fact that they have seen decades of hard use, and are worn, pitted, and a bit rusty.  They are relatively modest in size, measuring only a foot tall.  If they seem a little laid-back in these photos, that’s because they are; the shank (log support bar) on each is broken short.

The andirons came to us from sisters Martha and Katherine Poole, who first placed them on loan with the Society in 1950.  The Misses Poole attributed them to their great-grandfather on their mother’s side, Elisha Riggs (1810-1883) of Triadelphia.  (Being one of several gentlemen by that name, Mr. Riggs often went by “Elisha Riggs of T,” i.e., “son of Thomas.”)  Elisha and his wife Avolina Warfield Riggs lived at “Rockland” – not to be confused with Benjamin Hallowell’s Olney home of the same name, nor the Allnutt farm “Rocklands” outside Poolesville – near what is now Triadelphia Reservoir but was originally a small mill town. Here’s the house in the mid 1930s, in a snapshot donated, and probably taken, by the Poole sisters:

(If you’d like to place the house in your mental geography, the Riggs residence can be seen here, just below the town of Triadelphia, in G.M. Hopkins’ 1879 Atlas of Montgomery County; click the image to enlarge.  Note that in an earlier post, about the Riggs’ daughter Eva, I took a shortcut and said they were from Laytonsville; sorry about that.)

1879 Hopkins atlas Triadelphia

An early MCHS cataloger, perhaps mindful of Mr. Riggs’ timeline, gave the andirons a “circa 1850″ date.  After looking online for examples of other fanciful (if sturdy) iron andirons, some of which are dated to the mid-late 18th century, I wonder if our pair shouldn’t be pushed back a generation to Elisha’s father Thomas Riggs of Brookeville?  On the other hand, the Poole sisters were dedicated amateur historians; I suspect that if they thought the andirons could be assigned to an earlier relative, they would have done so.

The material is another clue that could confirm a circa 1850 date.  Many 18th century examples are of wrought iron, which is sturdier than cast iron.  I think, though I’m certainly not an expert in metal-working, that these andirons are cast iron, made in a mold.  Cast iron was a popular material in 19th century America; it is relatively brittle, which could account for this pair’s exceedingly shortened back ends.  Their lack of height also hints at a mid 19th century date, as fireplaces generally became smaller over time.

For many years we displayed these andirons in the large cooking hearth in the Beall-Dawson House, where they looked a little overwhelmed, if stoic.  Right now we have them in the much more appropriately-sized fireplace in the slaves’ quarters upstairs.  To give you a sense of what the back ends of this pair would have looked like, here’s a bonus picture: a very similar pair (minus the facial expressions), now in our cooking hearth, donated by Mrs. Vaudia Edmonston.


Tucked away in the back corner of the Beall-Dawson House dining room is a glass-fronted china cupboard, which we use today as a kind of “open storage” for some of our period-appropriate glass and ceramics.  Included in this collection are six syllabub glasses, all more or less resembling this one:


A cut-glass syllabub or jelly glass, 4.5″ tall, maker unknown (probably English or Irish).  It was donated by long-time MCHS volunteer Jane Cyphers, in memory of her mother Willie Ryan Rolfe.  Our glass curator assigned the date range 1770-1820, based on the manufacturing technique and the trumpet shape (earlier versions had handles and/or a spout).  It may be possible to narrow that down, but not for me; I particularly like this description of the form, from the Victoria & Albert Museum catalog: “Fundamentally they were just a cone on a small foot . . . produced from about 1700 to at least 1845.  They differed in details which are often noticeable only to specialist collectors.”


What is syllabub (other than an increasingly funny word to say/type)?  Syllabub, or sillabub, was a popular dessert drink from the 17th to the early 19th centuries, consisting of wine, claret or sack (sherry) topped with a frothy mixture of whipped cream, lemon juice, sack, and other spices, depending on the recipe.  According to Merriam-Webster, the word was first used in 1547.  By the late 18th century syllabub was typically served in these little flutes, sometimes stacked into pyramids or arranged on salvers just to make the presentation that much more fabulous.

Judging by this morning’s internet search, syllabub is having something of a foodie revival.  Food historian Ivan Day (whose website and blog include many syllabub meditations, images, and recipes) notes that many of the modern recipes are versions of the “everlasting syllabub,” essentially a kind of whipped cream, as opposed to a whipped syllabub, where the froth lies on top of your sweetened alcoholic beverage of choice.  The 1805 edition of Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy; Excelling any Thing of the Kind ever yet published (first published in 1747) includes recipes for “Whipt-Syllabubs,” “Everlasting Syllabubs,” and “Solid Syllabubs.” She instructs makers of the whipped variety “do not make these long before you use them,” whereas the everlasting “will keep above a week and it is better made the day before.”  Her whipped syllabubs require “a quart of thick cream, half a pint of sack, the juice of two Seville oranges or lemons . . . the peel of two lemons, [and] half a pound of double-refined sugar,” as well as “sweeten[ed] red-wine or sack” to “fill your glasses as full as you chuse.”

One of the keys to a good syllabub was (and probably still is) the froth.  Mrs. Glasse recommended a whisk for making the whipped, but “the best way to whip [everlasting] syllabub is to have a fine large chocolate mill, which you must keep on purpose, and a large deep bowl to mill them in.  It is both quicker done, and the froth stronger.”  Other options included an invented “engine,” rather like a bellows.  Mr. Day has images and descriptions of your implement choices here.

Though newly-invented ice cream eventually replaced syllabub as the favorite dessert, the frothy beverage did not quite vanish entirely.  The Practical Recipe Book, Compiled by Ladies of the Episcopal Missionary Society for the Benefit of Emmanuel Church, Norwich, N.Y. (1878) has a  “Whipped Syllabub” with eggs in the “Custards and Creams” chapter (along with three recipes for ice cream).  Montgomery County’s own Elizabeth E. Lea, author of the popular cookbook Domestic Cookery, Useful Receipts, and Hints to Young Housekeepers (first published in 1845), includes a non-alcoholic version of “Whips.”

The Practical Recipe Book, 1878

The Practical Recipe Book, 1878

Domestic Cookery, E.E. Lea, 1856 edition

Domestic Cookery, E.E. Lea, 1856 edition


Faux syllabub!

As for the dessert habits of our own Beall family, who moved into their fancy new Rockville house around 1815, we don’t know for certain.  Upton Beall’s estate inventory, taken shortly after his death in 1827, mentions only a half dozen silver dessert spoons and $20 worth of “China and glassware in cupboard.”  Upton came from a well-to-do family in sophisticated Georgetown, and it is believed he did some relatively high-class entertaining at his Rockville home; it seems likely that he would have glasses on hand to serve the still-trendy dessert.

Intrigued by our little glass and its awesomely-named contents? (I really wanted to simply title this post “Syllabub!”)  There are far more recipes, old and new, available online than I could link to here; try your own internet search to get started.  If the vessel itself is what you like, there are examples on view in the collections of the Victoria & Albert, the Met, the MFA, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Winterthur (and probably many others).

In honor of today’s date, 12/12/12, here’s an assortment of ‘twelves’ – some deliberate, some accidental – from our collections. (And no, there aren’t twelve of them; that seemed excessive.)


First up: two twelve-candle molds, tin, late 18th or 19th century. The one on the left, in original (if well-used) condition, was donated by Mary Kingdon, and probably used by her family in Rockville. The one on the right – the handle has broken off, and it was painted black sometime in the late 20th century – came from the Tschiffely family of Gaithersburg, donated by Jean Seeback. Both of these make 10½” tapers, twelve at a time (we also have molds for 4 at a time and 6 at a time, but of course, today is 12 day).  In the interest of saving space, I refer you to either your favorite life-in-olden-times novel or YouTube to learn how to make candles with one of these.


These miniature metal soldiers were made by the Barclay Manufacturing Company of New Jersey; they’re “podfoots,” a style created in 1951 by Barclay to conserve metal (instead of standing on a flat base, they simply have flattened “pod” feet). They saw action in Bethesda, and only these twelve comrades survived. Owned, and donated, by Bill Allman.


A box of H.B. Marking & Embroidery Cotton, still containing its original twelve spools, circa 1890. Until the 1880s, red was a notoriously unstable dye; the introduction of “turkey red” floss (developed in Turkey), colorfast and cheaper than silk, started a fad for redwork embroidery on everyday household linens.  These embroidered pictures were generally outline-stitch pictures of flowers, fruit, children, animals, humorous sayings, etc.; designs were published in magazines, pre-printed fabric squares were available for a penny, or you could of course draw your own.  Redwork stayed popular through the 1920s and ‘30s – examples can be found in antique stores everywhere – and is experiencing something of a resurgence in today’s retro-crafty communities. Purchased by MCHS.

x20031201alTwelve hand-wrought iron nails removed from “Pleasant Hills,” a house in Darnestown, during gutter work in 2003. The center block of the house was built in the 1760s for Charles Gassaway; the wings were constructed in the 1870s and 1910s. Someone could probably tell us more precisely when these nails were made and used, but we haven’t yet made that attempt. Donated by Mary Wolfe.


And last but not least, a tin suppository mold, mid 19th century, with twelve holes.  The box is 5.5″ long and 3.5″ deep, with the ‘thimbles’ making suppositories a little less than 2″ long.  Yes, it makes exactly what you think it does; 19th century doctors and pharmacists made their own recipes using  these handy tools.  According to “The Art of Dispensing,” 1915, by Peter MacEwan, “an American style [of suppository mold] consists of a circular metal box pierced with holes into which thimbles fit. The box can be filled with iced water or a freezing-mixture. The thimbles are filled with the suppository-mixture, dropped into the box, and owing to the chill the contents of the mold contract, and are easily tapped out when solid.” This piece was donated to MCHS by John Bentley of Sandy Spring. Mr. Bentley served as the MCHS curator in the late 1940s-early 1950s, and many of the items credited to Bentley were in fact collected by him from other county residents; thus, unfortunately, the specific history of this item is unknown.

I hope you all enjoy your Last Consecutive Date Day (especially if today is your birthday) until 01/01/2101. Go forth, and do something twelve times!

This battered, but mostly intact, reaping knife or scythe was donated in 1964 by Marjory Hendricks. Ms. Hendricks described it as an “important relic . . . a sickle which I dug up near the Spring at Normandy Farm” in Potomac, and informed us that the Smithsonian dated it to “1712 or 1716.”  It is made of iron, hand-forged and riveted together; the remains of a wooden handle are attached with two long iron wires (and one modern screw).

In 1931, Marjory Hendricks purchased some land on Falls Road and opened the Normandy Farm Restaurant. (Now known as Normandie Farm, the restaurant is a Potomac landmark.) Ms. Hendricks lived in a cottage on the property and kept a large vegetable garden; presumably the knife was found in the course of cultivation or yardwork, and she took it with her when she sold the restaurant in 1958.

So what was there in 1712-1716? Whose reaping knife was lost or forgotten on the grounds? Some histories of the restaurant say the land was “originally” a country club, which is not technically accurate. In this instance*, we need to go back to at least the beginning of the 18th century. According to the land grant maps in our Library – meticulously researched by volunteers Sheila Cochran, Eleanor Cook, Mary Charlotte Crook, and Florence Howard – Normandie Farm sits on part of a 600 acre land grant called “The Outlett,” surveyed in 1715 for William Offutt (d. 1734). Click the map below to enlarge it (and to read my tiny caption).

William left “The Outlett” to his son Edward, describing it in his will as “All that tract of land called the Outlett beginning at a White Oak on a small branch that runneth into the Branch called the Pyny Branch [apparently now Watt’s Branch, not the modern Piney Branch] the said Branch falling into Potomack against an Island formerly laid out for Walter Evans containing 600 acres.” (Got that? This is why the land grant research by our volunteers is so fantastic; I don’t have to figure out what all this means.) Edward Offutt (ca. 1698-1749) in turn subdivided “The Outlett,” leaving 200 acres to his son William and “all remaining portion” to his wife “during life, then to son Nathaniel and heirs forever, 259 acres of that ‘Outlett’ then the remaining of that ‘Outlett’ to Ruth and Mary, daughters, in equal shares. . . Ruth and her husband to have the piece on which [they] now dwell.”

Okay, so the awesomely complicated legal language doesn’t really have much to do with the knife itself, but it does give us clues as to what was happening on the land. Both William and Edward are described as “planters,” so there was cultivation going on somewhere. William Offutt’s primary residence was in Upper Marlboro, but Edward may have lived on “The Outlett,” as it is the only property referenced in his will. The last bit of Edward’s will quoted above seems to indicate that, even if Edward lived elsewhere, his daughter Ruth and her husband did live here.  “The Outlett” wasn’t just sitting there untouched.

Dr. Adams, the MCHS curator in 1964, hedged his bets and called this a “reaping knife” rather than Ms. Hendricks’s “sickle.” Grass and grain cutting tools have a very long history, and the hand tools used today have not varied too much from the ancient forms; “sickle” generally describes a more curved blade, while scythes and knives have a straighter blade at a right-ish angle to the handle. Our artifact resembles the tobacco and corn knives that can be found in collections of farm implement afficionados (and are still used by the Forest Service).  This piece has no maker’s marks (at least not any that remain visible). Ms. Hendricks did not provide us with any material from the Smithsonian, so the reasoning behind the “1712-1716” date is unknown; not being an expert on early American tools, however, I am happy to let it stand until proven otherwise.

Agriculture in 18th century Maryland centered around tobacco, with a gradual switch to wheat. I haven’t yet found anything to specify what was being grown on “The Outlett” – Edward’s inventory might give some clues – but the presence of a reaping knife of such early vintage would seem to indicate that at least some of the land was cultivated, probably with tobacco.  So our corn/tobacco reaping knife fits into that story. It is important to remember, however, that farm ownership and farm work are not the same. Father and son were not necessarily wielding Ye Olde Reaper themselves. William and Edward were, like many of their peers, slave owners; one or more these enslaved African Americans were the likely users of this knife – but we know much less about them. William’s will, written in 1732, mentions only one specific person (“the Youngest Negro I shall be possessed of at the time of my Decease” was willed to Edward, along with the real estate); perhaps other people were included in “the Rest Residue and Remainder of my Estate both Real & Personal.” Edward’s will, written in 1749, names Charles, Hercules, Pegg, Sue, Jack, James, Gulloby and Butcher.

I would be remiss if I did not include the perspective of a historical archaeologist. We can’t really fault Ms. Hendricks, who found this knife by accident on her own property, for not starting up a full-scale scientific survey. And, yes, through legal records and comparison to other, better-documented tools we can guess at some of its story; it’s an interesting piece. However, had this artifact been uncovered during an archaeological dig, with its context and provenience intact, we would almost certainly know more about its history and use.  Archaeologists don’t simply dig to get the artifacts out of the ground; they also study the surrounding soil, which tells you more than you might think.

To learn more about archaeology in Montgomery County, visit the websites of Montgomery Parks – Archaeology or the Archaeological Society of Maryland Mid-Potomac Chapter.

*Ms. Hendricks also donated to us an “Indian stone ax,” likewise “dug up near the Spring.”  To talk about that piece – perhaps in a future post – we’ll have to go back even further past the “original” country club!

A Fine Collection’s artifacts have been skewing a little feminine this year, so let’s take a look at the other side of fashion. Today’s piece is masculine, but not plain: An embroidered waistcoat, from the second half of the 18th century, worn by Charles Jones of what is now Chevy Chase.

The waistcoat is silk with a linen back, embroidered with both silk and metallic threads and embellished with tiny metal sequins. (Today the metal trim is dulled; you’ll have to imagine the sparkle it would have added.)  There are two crescent-shaped pockets, and eleven self-covered sequined buttons (the top buttonholes are fakes).  The bottom is square-cut, ending just below the waist, and there is a short stand-up collar.

Men’s waistcoats were introduced, literally, in 1666; they have stayed more or less in fashion – at least for formal wear – ever since. Alas, today’s vests are usually fairly sedate, but until the early 19th century they were often elaborately embellished, and meant to be seen and admired. If you think this vest is fancy, check out some of these even more fabulous examples from Colonial Williamsburg, the MFA, and the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Here's your man William Paca, painted by Charles Willson Peale in 1772. His waistcoat is sadly unembroidered, but it gives you a sense of the garment's place in the whole outfit. From the Maryland State Art Collection.

Judge Charles Jones (1712-1798) was a prominent landowner and local official. His estate, Clean Drinking Manor, was built around 1750, and remained in the family into the 20th century. (Remember Jonesy? This is his grandfather.) Jones served as one of the first judges of the Montgomery County Orphans Court, from 1777-1779, and was appointed Justice of the Peace in 1780. The 1783 tax assessment lists his real and personal property at a total of 2,520 pounds, quite a good haul for the time.

After a stint at the Smithsonian, the waistcoat was loaned to us for many years and and finally donated by the Jones family in 1982. Family tradition tells us that it was worn by Charles Jones in 1750, “when [he was] presented to the King and Queen of England.” We can take that with a grain or two of salt; for one thing, England was ruled only by the widower King George II in 1750. For another, some of the design elements on this waistcoat are more 1780s than 1750s. (Click the link for a very similar piece at the V&A.)  Whether Jones made a trip to England in 1750 is currently unknown.

Even if this waistcoat didn’t make it to England, Jones was an important and wealthy gentleman who would have needed some formalwear; he could have worn it to many events in and around Montgomery County in the late 18th century.  The family, not unnaturally, chose to focus less on local appearances and more on the potential Royal connection (even though Jones was an early proponent of the Revolutionary cause, and might himself have been uninterested in perpetuating his Royal visit). I can’t quibble, since it helped to ensure the waistcoat’s survival for our admiration. 

Mr. Paca, in the Maryland State Art Collection, can be found here.

The blog has been skewing a little modern in the past few weeks, so here’s something a bit older for your enjoyment. This is an 18th century pewter measure, owned by the Jones family of Chevy Chase.

The family described the piece as a “tankard,” and indeed there are pewter tankards and flagons with lids and thumb-pieces like this one, and some are in the baluster form seen here. However, this particular vessel is eleven inches tall (base to lid), has a base diameter of six inches, and is extremely heavy – not exactly an easily hefted tankard o’ ale, there. This form was commonly used for wine measures, and although our piece does not have its capacity marked, I’ve found other examples of gallon wine measures that are this size and shape. The thumb piece is double volute shape, with a fleur-de-lis on the hinge plate, fairly typical for mid 18th century pieces. The piece is in good, if used, condition, except for the tail of the handle, which has been bent (it should have a nice curly flip to it), and the lid doesn’t fit snugly anymore.

According to the Pewter Collectors’ Club of America, lidded baluster measures were imported from England to the American colonies in the 1740s and 1750s; some were made here, as well. Other than the incised circles on the lid, the only deliberate mark is a small WP (or WF) stamped onto the side of the rim; so far we (I enlisted a colleague in the search this morning) have not identified either a British or American maker to match the mark, so its exact origins are still unknown.

As for its history, this piece came from Clean Drinking Manor, the home of the Jones family. The house was built for Charles Jones around 1750 (it is no longer standing, but was off of Jones Mill Road in Chevy Chase). The donor, Robert Jones Jr., told us in 1976: “The tankard was in the household [by 1775], and when John Courts Jones served with rank of Major, Fourth Maryland regiment, Maryland Continental Line, he used the tankard while on duty and returned it to Clean Drinking Manor upon his discharge.” John Courts Jones, Sr. (1754-1802) served in the Maryland Line, including two years as aide to General William Smallwood, from 1775 until 1783. The Jones family’s story of the ‘tankard’ going off to war and being “used… on duty” always makes me imagine some poor horse charging into battle with this gigantic vessel strapped to the saddle, whomping him on the rear with every step. That’s not what happened, though. If indeed this piece went off to war, it no doubt stayed in the officers’ tent where it belonged; officers supplied their own luxury items (including servants). Anything else Jones brought with him is unknown; did he include a matching set of graduated measures, or was a gallon all he needed? Whatever his reasons for choosing this piece, both the story and the actual piece were “treasured” by the family (to use the donor’s own word), along with other, more traditional mementos of military service.

The object at left looks like a police badge, but it is in fact a small metal plaque used to dedicate a Rockville tree to the memory of James Perry, one of the first Montgomery County Commissioners. 

The Janet Montgomery Chapter of the DAR, founded in 1909, was the first DAR chapter organized in Montgomery County.  (Its name honors Janet Livingston Montgomery, wife of General Richard Montgomery, after whom the county is named.)   On September 6, 1921, the Chapter dedicated ten trees at the County Courthouse in honor of the first County Commissioners (Montgomery County was created on September 6, 1776). 

What happened to Mr. Perry’s tree?  I’m not sure yet.  The tree’s marker was donated to the Historical Society in 1976, by the Janet Montgomery Chapter.  The trees – or maybe just Mr. Perry’s tree? – may have fallen victim to Rockville’s Urban Renewal in the 1960s.  Like the MAUS letters off the Masonic Hall (from a previous post), the marker could have been detached from its tree for many years before it was donated.   Oddly enough, James Perry is not listed as a 1776 Commissioner in A Grateful Remembrance, a political history of the county published in 1976.  Maybe his marker was removed because he didn’t actually belong?

P.S. Today’s post is brought to you by Arbor Day, celebrated on the last Friday in April.  As usual with these posts, the artifact started out simple – yay, it’s related to trees! – and turned out to need more research.  If I track down Mr. Perry’s – or any of the other gentlemen’s – trees, I’ll post an update.  I’m sure you can’t wait!

There are some historical cliches that a good house museum just shouldn’t do without, chief among them the “Famous Person sat/slept/died in this chair/bed/house” chestnut.  Not wishing to disappoint, here is our contribution: George Washington Ate Breakfast In This Chair!

Not here in this house, sadly.  (We reserve that honor for Lafayette – and it was dinner, not breakfast.)  General Washington sat in this chair to eat his breakfast in 1775 in Pennsylvania – but the family moved to Montgomery County, Maryland in the early 19th century, so the chair has been a county piece for a long time.  (Usually I reject the “It’s been in the county for [X ] years even though it isn’t really from here!” argument, but I’m inclined to give George’s chair a pass.)   I’ll let the donor, Deborah Iddings Willson, tell the story: “My great, great, great, great grandfather Richard More lived in New Hope, Pennsylvania.  When George Washington left his winter quarters at Valley Forge in the spring of 1775 he passed Richard More’s house on his way to Philadelphia and sat in this chair to eat his breakfast.”  Mrs. Willson donated the chair to us in 1995.

As an antique chair, the piece is interesting by itself; a Pennsylvania comb-back Windsor arm chair from the late 18th century is nothing to sneeze at.  As a family heirloom brought to Sandy Spring, Maryland in the early 1800s, the chair helps tell the story of the Montgomery County Quaker community, many of whom moved here from Pennsylvania. If we had any way of proving that George Washington not only had breakfast with the Mores but also sat in this very chair, it would increase its monetary value – but for our purposes the story is enough, just an added bonus on top of its relevance to local history.

George’s chair normally* sits in the corner of the Beall-Dawson House parlor.  Some docents tell the story and others do not; though interesting, it’s not essential to the house narrative.  We (okay, I) might mock the famous-person cliche – George Washington Slept (or Sat) Here – but that link with the national storyline does resonate with people.  A few years ago, as a post-field-trip exercise, the fifth grade of Sherwood Elementary sent us their thoughts on our “most valuable artifact” (historically speaking).  George Washington’s chair won, with 12 children choosing it, beating our Rockville tall-case clock by two votes. 

* It has temporarily – and somewhat hilariously – been replaced with an aluminum Christmas tree, but it will be back on view in January.

This ironstone vegetable dish normally resides in the china cupboard in the Beall-Dawson dining room, but occasionally it gets a chance to sit in a more visible spot. The bowl was donated in the early 1960s by Minnie Yearly, who said that it came to her family from the Carrolls and had been used by Maryland Governor Charles Carroll (1737-1832). According to Miss Yearly it dates from about 1760, although the bowl has no maker’s marks or other identifications. The finial on the domed cover is formed into a little rococo pile of fruit; the donor suggested in a letter that the bowl was used “to keep the creamed spinach, hot beef stews or lamb stews.”

When talking about the Historical Society’s collections, I almost always refer to them as “mine.” “I have a clock like that,” “My quilt has a tape binding,” that kind of thing. This is nonsense, of course. Really, our collections are not even “ours;” we hold them in the public trust; they’re yours, dear Reader. But I have a personal affection for most (not quite all; it’s hard for me to get worked up over, say, an unprovenanced clover seeder) of our artifacts, and it comes out in the way I talk about them.

Not everything is “mine;” sometimes an associated name takes precedence – usually a donor. I’m not sure why I identify so many of our artifacts with their donors instead of their owners; maybe it comes from reading all the donation correspondence, making the personality of the woman in the 1960s far more immediate than that of the dead famous guy (no offense, Gov. Carroll) in the 1760s. This slight discrepency was made clear a few weeks ago, when my – sorry, our collections volunteer suggested we put “the Carroll bowl” on the dining room table for the season. I had to think about it for while, then asked, “Do you mean Miss Yearly’s bowl?” Neither one of us was entirely certain what the other person was talking about.*

Miss Yearly’s – a.k.a. the Carroll family – bowl is on display on the dining room table for a few more weeks, although it will have to go back into the china cupboard (still visible, but you have to know where to look) when the holiday decorations go up in December.

* (That’s why artifact numbering systems are so important! Gc0001 is Gc0001, no matter what name we call it.)