For many people, the first day of a new year is a time for resolutions and fresh starts.  January first has been an official U.S. holiday since 1870, when it was included in a list of holidays for federal workers in the District of Columbia.  But not everyone has the day off, of course, and New Year’s Day celebrations – if any – can be muted, quiet, and personal, whether you’re recovering from a midnight party, enjoying time off with family or friends, getting started on those resolutions, or simply taking care of business as usual.  Interested in some New Year’s activities of Montgomery County’s past? Of course you are!  Let’s take a look.  (Note: spelling and punctuation are all as written by the original authors.)

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January 1, 1891
I have often wanted to keep a diary and as Mother has not written in hers for so long she has given it to me to begin in.
Was at Dr. Brookes, Rainy, so we staid in the house and played Tiddledy Winks.

Carrie Miller Farquhar (1842-1904) of Norbeck kept a diary or journal for much of her life, but rather sporadically.  She took a break between October 22, 1890 and January 7, 1891, and one of her young daughters seized the opportunity (with permission, apparently) to make a start on a diary of her own to start the new year.

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Carrie’s husband Roger Brooke Farquhar, Sr. (1837-1929) likewise kept a faithful record of his daily work.  He was a farmer, and most of his new year’s entries are little different from any other day; for example, here are the first three entries in the first journal volume, begun on January 1st, 1856 (click photo to enlarge; transcription below):
Farquhar 1-1-1856
January 1856
1st  Took Jinny to shop and she kicked so that they could not shoe her. Mended the dam &c.
2nd Went to Lea’s mill with buckwheat shod colt at Perry’s, hauled wood in the evening. very sleety.
3rd  Shelled corn for cow feed, and took to mill.

In 1861, Roger indulged in a bit of timely festivity, noting on January 1st:

Set up last night at Brooke Grove, saw the old year out for the first time I remember, took Mother to Brooke Grove in the sleigh.  Bill cutting wood     had a political meeting at Rockville.

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A new year can be a time for reflection on the year that’s concluded, as well as for looking ahead.  Okay, that’s a little trite, but it’s important to remember that it was as true for our predecessors as it is for us today.  As 1924 turned to 1925, recently widowed Henrietta Clagett (1848-1925) of Potomac noted sorrowfully in her diary,

Dec 31st, 1924.  Last day of old year which brought so much sorrow and loss of loved ones &c.  . . .
January 1st 1925.  New Years day dark and dreary snow on the ground from last night’s fall.  Looks like we would have more.

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The Stang family of Clopper were devout Catholics, who attended nearby St. Rose of Lima Church.  On January 1st, 1912, 18 year old Marie Stang (1894-1970) wrote in her diary,
Stang 1-1-1912
We stayed up until 12:00 to see the old year out and new year in.  We had two masses – 9:00 and 10:00.  Papa went to Holy Communion and so did I.  Mamma & I went to Gaithersburg to get Bess shod, came home and played cards, Papa & I beat Miss Mary and Mamma.

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Davey 1929In 1929, 23 year old W. Cecil Davey was living at home with his parents in Takoma Park, and working with his father in the plastering business.  New Year’s Day was a chance to relax.  In his red-covered “National Diary” for 1929, he noted on January 1st:

The New Year has come in decidedly damp.  It rained all day but was not cold.  fooled around the house all morning doing nothing in particular. Cleared up my room & books some so that it looks a bit tidier. Some time after dinner I went over to Dodge’s and helped Harry on his railway for a while. Stopped there playing with him & Doris till about six.  After tea Doris & Fred came over & we played cards for a while.  I took some photos of Doris over to Mrs. Johnston & she liked them.  Donald came in about 8 o’clock & we played cards with Frank & Dad till past ten.

(In the 1930 census, the Dodge family – including ten year old Harry, Jr. – are the Daveys’ next-door neighbors on Maple Avenue.  1950s records indicate that W. Cecil Davey was a professional photographer in Silver Spring; perhaps Doris’s photos were some early efforts.)

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From 1801 through 1932, there was a public reception held at the White House every New Year’s Day.  In 1892, Roger Brooke Farquhar attended with his daughter Anna and friend Katherine Hall; but, as noted in both Roger’s and wife Carrie’s diaries, it was not everything they’d expected (and, yes, Roger still included some of the day’s farm work):

Carrie:
Roger, Anna & Katherine Hall went to Wash. to Presidents Reception – had not a very successful day.

Roger:
Anna, Catherine Hall & I went to town to see the Presidents reception, shook hands with Mr. Harrison but were disappointed at not seeing foreign ministers
Carrie came home
The men plowing & spreading manure

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And one last entry!  Thirteen year old Catherine Dawson (1910-1974) of Rockville spent January 1st, 1924 visiting family, doing homework and chores, and generally having a nice day.  She ends with a cheerfully misspelled good wish for the coming year – a wish that your blogger also extends to you, dear readers!

Tuesday Jan 1
Had breakfast at Willard with Uncle Wade. There were great times last night. . . . Cleaned up a while & then wrote my synopsis of “David Copperfield.” Fooled around until dinner time. Virginia was here for dinner. Afterwards we read, talked & played with the boys. She left & I read until supper. Had a light supper. Read & fooled around all evening & then went to bed. Hears hopes for a Happy New Year for all my family & friends.

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Farquhar family diaries donated to MCHS by Roger Brooke Farquhar, Jr.; Marie Stang’s diaries donated by Marie Stang; W. Cecil Davey’s diaries donated anonymously; Henrietta Clagett’s diary donated by Molly T. Keith; copy of Catherine Dawson Hill’s diary provided by Beth Dawson Rodgers.

Here’s more on the diaries, and lives, of Marie Stang and Mrs. Clagett, as well as some notes from the diaries of Carrie Miller Farquhar and Catherine Dawson.

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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!

Historical Society interns work hard on a wide variety of projects. This past spring and summer we’ve had five students dedicating their time and energy to MCHS needs. You might get to hear from them in person in the near future, but in the meantime, let’s take a look at some fruits of their labors.

Josh, an MCPS student (and repeat intern, our favorite kind!) has been transcribing a 19th century diary, written by Caroline Miller Farquhar of Norbeck. Carrie’s diaries have been featured a few times before (and one of the earliest volumes is currently on display in our exhibit on Montgomery County women in the Civil War), but there is still this one last volume to transcribe. Thanks to Josh (and the many other students who have taken their turn with Carrie’s peculiar handwriting), we’re almost there.

Two students from GW’s Museum Studies program chose to fulfil their internship requirement here at MCHS. Maggie has undertaken the task of updating the location inventory for our main storage area; in the process, she’s seen many of our artifacts and, I think, learned some interesting new facts about household management in the 19th century. Here is our brass clock (or spit) jack, a mysterious item which inspired some internet searches. This puppy is worthy of a whole blog post to itself, but for now here’s a quick summary: clock jacks were used to evenly roast meat in a fireplace without too much tending. Once wound up, the clockwork mechanism – shown below – kept the spit (which hung from the bottom) turning.   This brass clock jack, circa 1850, was made by George Salter of England and is thought to have been used at the home of Charles England in Potomac. Ours still has its key, but it’s missing the round spit from which the meat hung; here’s a picture of a more complete one, from the collections of the New-York Historical Society. 

Maggie’s fellow-student Caitlin cataloged a significant portion of our medical book collection, adding the records to our computer database. One entertaining gem is the 1860 edition of Walker’s Manly Exercises and Rural Sports, published in London and owned by George Minor Anderson of Rockville. You will no doubt be delighted to learn, O manly readers, that this fine volume is available as a free ebook, complete with illustrations (for example, the link here takes you to the section on “vaulting” and “pole leaping” – scroll down to the picture, I implore you). Inspired by the artistic gymnastics portion of the London Olympics? Try it for yourself! (Note: MCHS is not responsible for any injuries incurred during Manly Exercises.)

Becky, a recent graduate of UMBC, interned here during the spring semester and stayed on as a summer office assistant. Her current project will be on view at the County Fair next week, as the “Old Timers” have once again kindly lent us space in their building. Becky surveyed our artifact and library collections for an exhibit on entries at both the past and current incarnations of the Fair. It’s good to have interns – they help you get to the things you haven’t yet gotten to, like taking photos of an 1884 knitted bedspread with crochet-lace border, made by Annie H. Settle of Virginia and entered in the “antiques” category of the Rockville Fair sometime in the early 20th century.

Our fifth intern’s project is not quite ready for the internet yet, but it will be soon! Cathy, a student of the Johns Hopkins online museum studies program – and also a professional videographer – is creating a short promotional video to help MCHS tell the world about all the cool stuff we have and do.

Of course, this only brushes the surface of the many things our interns have done over the past few months. Less ‘exciting’ activities included stocking the shop, scanning photos, cleaning out the Dairy House, labeling newsletters, washing coolers, and dressing a mannequin in a 19th century gown (well, hopefully they thought that was exciting). Museum work, especially in a small institution like ours, requires a certain willingness to do all kinds of boring and/or unexpected tasks.  The hard work of our interns (and of all our volunteers) helps keep MCHS running – we couldn’t do it without them!

Carrie Farquhar’s diaries donated by Roger Brooke Farquhar, Jr.  The clock jack donated by Warren Conklin.  Exercise book donated by the Anderson family.  Annie Settle’s bedspread donated by Gladys Benson.

Last time I asked “what is it,” I had an answer for you. This time, not so much. These two mystery tablets were found in the 1960s, buried in a suburban yard near Seven Locks and Montrose Roads. They are made of black slate (11″ wide, 9.75″ high, about 1″ thick), decoratively shaped and carved in almost matching designs. One is marked (carved) on the back “1827,” and the other is marked “27 R.” There’s no writing on the fronts; the incised lines appear to have been filled in at one point with yellow pigment of some kind, and the front and sides are painted (red and black). Finally, each has two holes in the center of the back, as if they were attached to something.

Here's one...

The homeowners moved to Willerburn Acres off Seven Locks Road in the 1960s, into one of the first homes in the neighborhood. While doing landscaping they found these two items along with some flagstones and wooden boards, a necklace, and a baby’s cup (uninscribed). The slate tablets perplexed them so much that they took them to someone at the Smithsonian, who didn’t know what they were either. The family hung on to these curiosities until they moved out of state in 2005, when they donated them to the Historical Society for us to ponder.

...and here's the other.

So what are they? Slate has been used for many things, including tombstones, but if they’re meant as grave markers they’re rather obscure (and not quite the right size, it seems to me, even for footstones).  All the edges are finished, so they’re not broken off of a larger piece. They were definitely attached to something, but maybe that came later – a 19th century version of repurposing antiques (like turning an old door into a headboard), maybe? Were they part of a large slate fireplace surround, or even part of a slate altar… or maybe the ends of pews? A search for those two things on the internet found many examples in England (especially Wales and Cornwall), and a few in the New England/Pennsylvania area. Black slate, like this, can be found in Pennsylvania. (There were also a few slate quarries around the base of Sugarloaf Mountain and in Ijamsville, Frederick County, although I believe they produced a bluish-gray stone.)

"1827" and the attachment holes.

But the two pieces don’t quite match each other; the designs are spaced a little differently, and only one has a curved profile to the, um, sticky-up parts. (Architectural terms: not my forte.) Why don’t they match? Was one a later copy, to replace a design element that broke? Were these someone’s practice pieces? Is 1827 a date, or something less obviously helpful? What’s the significance, if any, of the linear design?  (Have I photographed them upside down?)

As for their location, Willerburn Acres is built on land that once belonged to two different 18th century tracts: Resurvey on Black Oak Thicket, patented by Ninian Magruder in 1742 (and resurveyed in 1754), and Scotland, patented in 1732 by Andrew Tannehill. I have not been able to find anything showing the location of any houses or other buildings (or cemeteries) within those tracts, so I can’t tell if the donors’ home was, say, right on top of Magruder’s [hypothetical] slate workshop.

So I and my colleagues are at a loss (although I’m leaning toward the fireplace surround theory, and am enjoying coming up with scenarios. Maybe Uncle Richard liked to carve slate, and these were his rejects? Or Cousin Ralph brought them from Pittsburgh, but couldn’t figure out where to put them in his new home? I could do this for days*). Help us out, creative and knowledgeable blog readers! Ever seen a footstone (or anything at all) like these? Recognize the designs as traditionally [insert European, African or religious culture here]? Remember hearing about an old church somewhere on Ninian Magruder’s land? Help us solve the Mystery of the Slate Tablets!

* I am making those names up. Please do not use them when doing Magruder family research.