Today on the blog, we’re welcoming Brian Cushing, Locust Grove’s Program Director, Distillery, and historical clothing aficionado. He’s always been interested in the clothing in the portraits of Croghan family members, and today he’s discussing the surprisingly intricate history of William Croghan’s 1820 coat and what it says about our founder.
When discussing the clothing of the past, I have often encountered a knee jerk reaction by onlookers to assume that older people dressed conservatively or retained the fashions of their youth. William Croghan was no exception to such assumptions but, while his portrait had been hanging in the parlor at Locust Grove for years, it was difficult to claim real evidence one way or another as it was difficult to discern specific details about his clothing since the overall dark colors blended in low light. This all changed when the portrait was moved across the hall to the dining room and a light shone on it. Suddenly, the collar of his coat was clearly discernible and we learned that in November of 1820, sixty-eight-year-old William Croghan was a man who kept up with fashion, or at least wanted to present himself that way.
Portrait of William Croghan by John Wesley Jarvis, 1820.
If you look closely, you will see that the collar of the coat extends further down toward his chest before the notch and transition to lapel occurs than is typically seen on men’s coats of today or most other times in the history of the garment.
The difference can be seen clearly when viewed next to a slightly earlier gentleman. For example, this is Frank Buckle by Thomas Arrowsmith, dated 1816, from James Adam & Sons Ltd Fine Art Auctioneers and Valuers. The fashionable innovation in the case of William Croghan’s coat and others of this period in particular, vs. those like Mr. Buckle’s, is how low toward his chest his collar sits.
Frank Buckle, by Thomas Arrowsmith, 1816.
The innovation was recent with exaggerated examples showing up in European fashion plates only that year.
The difference is also illustrated in cutting diagrams in tailoring guides of the period. In this diagram from The Taylors’ Instructor by James Queen and William Lapsley in 1809, the body of the coat was cut to accommodate a collar that sat much higher than William Croghan’s:
The Taylors’ Instructor by James Queen and William Lapsley, 1809.
This diagram from The Tailor’s Friendly Instructor by J. Wyatt in 1822 illustrates how cutting out the coat was adapted to accommodate the newer style:
The Tailor’s Friendly Instructor by J. Wyatt, 1822.
The style eventually went to extremes, as most tend to do, then faded, not surviving the decade. William Croghan was not presenting himself in old clothes or having new clothes made in an old style. His clothes were up to date and fashionable; he was presenting himself as a gentleman of the time he was living in. Central to his identity also was his contribution to the forming of the then young Republic. Perhaps more significant than William Croghan’s fashion sense is the medal that he wore on his excellent coat.
Major William Croghan was a veteran officer of George Washington’s army and a founding member of the Society of the Cincinnati, the fraternal organization they formed. The society lives on today through their descendants who occasionally honor Locust Grove with a visit. Thanks to input from current members and researchers of the Society of the Cincinnati, we know that this is an extremely rare case of a portrait of an original member currently displayed in what was once his own house
Thanks for this excellent explanation, Brian! We’re feel very fortunate to have such a fashionable founder.
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.
John – 23 April 1790
George—15 November 1791
William Jr—2 January 1794
Charles—13 February 1796 (died in infancy)
Ann—20 October 1797
Eliza—9 April 1800
Nicholas—19 June 1802 (Twin)
Charles – 19 June 1802 (Twin)
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!
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/