Following on from last week’s post, here’s another book where the owner noted her hometown:

x20130103My New Home. By the author of “Win and Wear,” “Tony Starr’s Legacy,” “Faithful and True,” “Ned’s Motto,” “Turning the New Leaf,” Etc., published in New York by Robert Carter & Brothers, 1881.  This novel, written by Sarah Stuart Robbins, was first published in 1865; it’s a gently religious story, written for young ladies, about a woman moving out of her childhood home after the death of her mother. (Many volumes of the “Win and Wear” series, of which this is a part, can be found online.)

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The book is well-read, with a partly-detached cover, rubbed corners, some water damage, and dog-eared pages; there are also a number of inscriptions.  The earlier ones, on the inside cover (above), include the name “Dr. Ayler” and a sticker from the Library of the Poolesville Presbyterian Sabbath School.  (Note that “This Book must either be returned or reported to the Librarian each Week.”)  The Poolesville Presbyterian Church was founded in the late 1840s; though it appears to have had a rather small congregation, it was active enough in the late 19th century to support both a Sabbath School and a Library with at least 104 books in it.  (This book being No. 104.)

Dr. John W. Ayler (1839-1916) was a physician from Virginia who made his home in Poolesville from the 1870s to the 1890s; he was active in the Poolesville Presbyterian congregation, and in fact his wife’s brother was a minister in the Rockville Presbyterian Church. It’s not clear why his name appears in the front of the book, though perhaps he donated it to the Sabbath School.

The Poolesville Presbyterian Church lost its full-time minister in 1902, and while I haven’t found mention of the Sabbath School in any of our records so far, it seems possible that the school closed around the same time, and the library books dispersed.  By 1903, this book was in the hands of young Margaret Lee, who identified herself clearly on the copyright page:

my house where I live Feb. 19, 1903.
Margaret Lee age 17 years
Poolesville, Md is my staying place but Sugarland is my house where I live

Sugarland is an African American community near Poolesville, founded soon after Maryland abolished slavery in 1864.  The Lees were one of the first families to purchase land and set up their households in the new community.  Margaret Lee can be found in the 1900 census, living at home with her parents Wallace and Martha; she’s noted as “at school,” probably attending Sugarland’s one-room schoolhouse. The book inscription indicates that by 1903 she was living, and likely working, in the larger town of Poolesville – but we are not to mistake that for her actual home!  Like many small towns, Sugarland inspires a strong sense of community in its residents and their descendants.  Miss Lee’s inscription – whether or not it was prompted by the theme or title of the novel, and whether it was meant for other readers’ eyes or only her own – emphasizes those ties in a particularly affecting way.

For more information about Margaret Lee’s community, visit the Sugarland Ethno-History Project website. The rest of Miss Lee’s history is currently unknown, though the people at the Project – some of them related to Miss Lee – are looking into her story.  The book itself was donated to the Historical Society’s used book sale fundraiser many years ago; we rescued it from the sale, but were not able to identify its donor by name.  If you have any information about the post-1903 history of Miss Lee or her book, please let us know!

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The concept of a high chair – a tall, small chair that makes it easier to feed, tend, and occasionally restrain a baby – has been around for a long time.  The Metropolitan Museum has a 17th century high chair in its collections, and the Museum of Fine Arts has an early 18th century example. Just like adult-sized furniture, children’s pieces follow fashions and trends: some are expensive and elaborate, others are throwbacks to an earlier era, and some are more about function than looks.  Here are two infant high chairs in our collections, used around the same time but of very different styles.

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On the left is a late 19th century wooden high chair, 37″ tall, owned by the Jacobs family of Browningsville.  It is handmade, and may have been built by Jonathan Jacobs (1845-1919) himself; he was a coach-maker, but an 1867 tax record identifies him as a cabinet-maker as well.  Jonathan and his wife, Mary Manzella Brandenburg Jacobs, had four sons (Willard, Norman, Wriley, and Merle) born between 1875 and 1890.  The chair descended through the family of the youngest son, Merle Jacobs, to Merle’s son Charles, who donated it to MCHS in 1996.

It’s a good old-fashioned Windsor style, often seen in 18th century high chairs, with nicely turned legs, rails, and stretchers, and a shaped seat.  There’s no tray, which is not unusual for early (that is, before the 1950s or so) high chairs, but there is a little footrest, and a small metal eye centered under the seat indicates that there may have been a strap or other restraint to keep any Baby Jacobses from pitching themselves out of the chair headfirst.

DSC07529Though in pretty good shape, it does show evidence of years of use; there are a few old stains on the seat, the finish on the seat and arms is worn down, and several of the peg joints have been repaired and glued.

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DSC07513The 37″ tall walnut high chair on the right (and in the detail shot, above) was used around the same time as the Jacobs family’s, but is an example of a popular commercially-made chair.  (If you do an internet image search for “Victorian high chair,” you’ll see what I mean.)  “Convertible” highchairs were made throughout the 19th and 20th centuries (examples here); some turned into chair-and-table combos, and others into rocking chairs or, like this one, wheeled walkers:

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Ta-da!

A number of manufacturers used this distinctive Eastlake-style chair-back design; ours, unfortunately, does not have a maker or store label.  However, family history tells us that it was used by Nourse family of Washington, DC and Darnestown.  (It was thought to have been used a generation earlier, by the Darbys of Seneca, but the design of the chair is too late for an 1850s date.)  Mary Alice Darby (1845-1942) of Seneca married druggist/physician Charles H. Nourse; the 1880 census shows the family in a well-to-do household on New York Avenue, DC, with their children Upton Darby, four years old, and Mary Helen, five months old.  They moved to Darnestown, near Mary Alice’s family, soon thereafter.

The highchair descended through the family of son Upton Darby Nourse to his daughter Rebecca Nourse Chinn and then to her daughter (the donor), Jane Chinn Sween.  Like the Jacobs’ chair, it shows evidence of hard use – the woven back and stamped-leather seat bottom (below) are both replacements – and was probably used for more than one generation.  The Nourse high chair can be seen, usually, in the dining room of the Beall-Dawson house (as a baby’s dining chair, not as a walker).

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And now a bonus, to thank my readers for being so patient with today’s at-the-end-of-the-day posting! We have no photos of the above chairs in use … in fact, though we have many pictures of infants and children sitting in baby carriages, on ponies, on the laps and shoulders of family members, and even in a wheelbarrow, we have very few high chair photos.  Happily, we do have this fantastic photo of infant James E. Mason (b. 1896) of Sugarland, posed for a photo in his chair.

Donated by Gwen Hebron Reese.

Donated by Gwen Hebron Reese.