Lucy Croghan: Motherhood in the 19th Century

Hello readers! My name is Kaitlyn Tisdale, and I am the Director of Education and Family Programs at Historic Locust Grove. When studying the history of the Croghan family I found myself very drawn to Lucy and her journey to Kentucky, her marriage to William Croghan, but mostly, her motherhood journey. As a new mother myself (to an already very active 9-month-old boy) I am astounded at Lucy’s strength and fortitude in having 9 children the late 18th & early 19th centuries… So, let’s talk a little bit about Lucy!

We often think of Lucy as many different things: the sister of General George Rogers Clark, the wife of Major William Croghan, the lady of the house. On a daily basis she would have instructed the enslaved workers in the house of their daily duties, coordinated fine dinners for prominent (sometimes Presidential) guests, taught her children school lessons, and even sometimes acted as her husband’s deputy in his surveying business. But, today let’s think of Lucy simply as a mother.

Lucy Clark Croghan, around the time of her marriage.


Lucy Clark married Major William Croghan the week of July 14, 1789. As was frequently the case, Lucy became pregnant almost immediately after the wedding. The couple’s first child, a son named John, was born on April 23, 1790, a respectable 40 weeks after his parent’s marriage.

Lucy experienced 8 more pregnancies over the course of the next 15 years, delivering her last child in 1805 when she was 39. During this time period for women to give birth to an average of 7-8 children during their lifetime was not unusual. Large families were often also desirable, as many hands could be used for the demanding work of farming or running a household.
Pregnancies:
During Lucy’s lifetime she had 9 children.

  1. John – 23 April 1790
  2.  George—15 November 1791
  3. William Jr—2 January 1794
  4. Charles—13 February 1796 (died in infancy)
  5. Ann—20 October 1797
  6. Eliza—9 April 1800
  7. Nicholas—19 June 1802 (Twin)
  8. Charles – 19 June 1802 (Twin)
  9. Edmund—12 September 1805

Assuming Lucy carried these pregnancies to term, she would have been pregnant for an astonishing ~81 MONTHS of her life. 8 rounds of dreaded morning sickness, countless nights of insomnia, endless days full of lower back pain and swelling, but each time producing a tiny bundle of joy. For Lucy, being pregnant and mothering seemed to be her life’s calling.
There were 15 YEARS between the birth of her first child and her last. (Think about that…that is 15 years that Lucy was actively having children insert big eye emoji here)


A look at childbirth in the late 18th and early 19th centuries:
Childbirth in colonial America was a difficult and often dangerous experience for a woman. (They call it labor for a reason, ladies). No epidurals, no birthing tubs, no sense of security in the rhythmic beating of a fetal heart monitor. The birth took place in the home, often with female relatives or neighbors close to the bedside to offer encouragement and assistance to the midwife, if one was on hand. By the late 18th century it was fashionable to invite male physicians to assist in the birthing, however this was not always possible.
This would most likely not have been possible for Lucy while at Locust Grove, as she lived a great distance from the male physicians of downtown Louisville. At any rate, there were not many medical interventions that could have even been offered to her.


Her labor could not be relieved by pain medicines, except for the occasional draught of beer or swigs of alcohol. Bloodletting was thought to be of some help, though hindsight is always 20:20, right? Forceps were developed in the early 18th century to assist tricky or ill-positioned babies in delivery but even they could be dangerous. Forceps improperly used caused damage to the baby’s bones and ligaments, as well as perineal lacerations and uterine trauma in the mother.


Convalescence:
Assuming all went well in the delivery, women of the 18th & 19th centuries typically only spent between 3-4 weeks convalescing. During this time family would keep a close watch monitoring if anything was amiss. (But let’s be real, it takes much longer than 3-4 weeks of convalescing to recover from childbirth). With the amount of children Lucy had, she most likely spent ~40-50 months recovering from childbirth in her lifetime.
After the delivery, it was not unusual for mothers to be presented with a banquet full of their favorite foods. (What was your first meal after delivery, mom-readers? Mine was a hot ham and cheese sandwich, and French fries. Thanks Norton Women’s & Children’s Hospital 2AM Kitchen Staff!)
Also during her convalescence, Lucy would have been navigating the waters of making sure her other children were cared for and attempting to breastfeed her new child.

Mother and Child, Thomas Sully, after 1827.


Breastfeeding:
If Lucy breastfed her own children and did not utilize a wet nurse, it is estimated that she would have breastfed for a total of ~96 months of her life….Think about that for a moment. Keeping in mind that every baby is completely different, most babies eat every 2-3 hours from birth until about 3 months old, then every 3-4 hours from 3 months until their first birthday. That gives us an average of 17,520 times Lucy breastfed one of her children. (Could be much more, could be much less! But see the math below to give you an idea of how I came up with that number.)

The use of a wet nurse (which is simply defined as a woman who breastfeeds another’s child), was a very common practice before the introduction of bottle feeding and formula. Wet nursing began for reasons many mothers may be familiar with. Some women suffered with low (or no) milk production, some women struggled with mastitis or infection, and unfortunately, some women died in childbirth and the babies bellies still needed to be filled.


From the 17th through 19th centuries it was not uncommon for wives of prominent men to utilize a wet-nurse as it was often seen as more fashionable, but they were then free to help run their husband’s business. In Lucy’s case, as she was from a wealthy family and married to a prominent businessman, it is probable that she could have had an enslaved woman feed her children. If none were able at that time, research has shown that if necessary she could have “rented” an enslaved woman from a neighboring property as long as was necessary.
Enslaved women and enslaved teenage girls were often used as nursemaids and caregivers throughout the first (and arguably most formative) years of children’s lives. In all likelihood, Lucy probably changed very few diapers personally, rather opting to have one of the enslaved women to help feed, bath, change, and clothe her children. With the frequency in which she had children, from 1790-1807 there would have had been 2-3 children in diapers at once at Locust Grove… That’s a lot of nappys, folks.


Parenting:
Looking at her children’s birthdates, Lucy had her first 5 children in the span of 7.5 years.

She had 5 children under the age of 7.5 at one time…with no screen time, no “age appropriate toy blogs”, no Google to be her guide, no moms’ groups on Facebook to be her sounding board. She did this with the help of her female relatives and many of the enslaved women she considered her property.
Between 1790 and well into the 1820s Lucy’s life would have been centered around not only running a large house and farm, but also rearing 8 of her 9 children. Unfortunately, Charles, born in 1796, died in infancy.
For many years, by the time one child was weaned and walking another child was surely on the way. As her children grew, Lucy would have been responsible for guiding their development, morally, educationally, and with needed life skills, though she probably worked through many others such as tutors and teachers.

Lucy Clark Croghan, 1820.


As I wrap up this blog post, I realize that I set out writing this blog just to marvel at the numbers associated with Lucy’s motherhood journey. 81 months pregnant, 96 months breastfeeding, 9 births, 8 surviving children, 48 years of motherhood. Seeing Lucy as a creator of generations, and the matriarch of Locust Grove.


I realize I haven’t mentioned much about William Croghan… it is unlikely that he attended the actual births of his children, as that was considered the “woman’s sphere” but he would have had a large hand in raising his children. (But probably not changing those diapers.) While fathers were much more interested in their children’s education (particularly for his sons) and marriage (particularly for his daughters) he would have also been witness to their growth and their personalities and concerned with their moral character.


So, readers, tell us what you think. What would you think it would be like to be in Lucy’s shoes? Would you have wanted the tall task of mothering 8 children in the early 19th century? How is your motherhood journey like Lucy’s? How is it different? Share your stories and thoughts with us!

 

RESOURCES:

“Childbirth in Early America.” Digital History, University of Houston, 2019, www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/topic_display.cfm?tcid=70.

Potts, Gwynne Tuell. George Rogers Clark & Locust Grove: Military Leader in the Pioneer West. Historic Locust Grove, Inc., 2006.

Potts, Gwynne Tuell. George Rogers Clark and William Croghan: a Story of the Revolution, Settlement, and Early Life at Locust Grove. The University Press of Kentucky, 2020.

Stevens, Emily E, et al. “A History of infant Feeding.” The Journal of Perinatal Education, Lamaze International Inc., 2009, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pms/articles/PMC2684040/.

West, E. and Knight, R. J. (2017) Mothers’ milk: slavery, wetnursing, and black and white women in the Antebellum South.  Journal of Southern History, 83 (1). pp. 37­68. ISSN 0022­ 4642 doi: https://doi.org/10.1353/soh.2017.0001 Available at  http://centaur.reading.ac.uk/66788/ 

 

 

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