The Curious Case of Mr. Collins

Here at Locust Grove, we have an extensive research library for the use of our staff, volunteers, and docents, so everyone can continue to learn about the Croghan and Clark families, the history of the city of Louisville and the state of Kentucky, and everything about life in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. We are always growing our knowledge to better serve our visitors and answer questions, whether someone asks what herbs were planted in the kitchen garden to the best way to cure meats in the smokehouse. Our docents, to a man (and woman!) are incredibly skilled and knowledgeable individuals, and our corps of Costumed Interpreters volunteer copious amounts of time and endless resources to bring our family and their friends and neighbors to life.  Because we are always engaged in research, we often discover new and surprising things about Locust Grove.

Heather H., a docent, master photographer, and the queen of historical pastimes, works with our Costumed Interpreters as a plainclothes handler, and conducts a great deal of primary source research to enhance our interpreters’ knowledge of their characters’ lives. Heather has “a great fondness for historic obituaries” and states that she has “been working on locating obits and death notices for everyone that is portrayed by the costumed interpreter cast. I came across Mr. Collins when I was working on the notices for the Croghans.”

Now, you’re probably thinking, “Mr. Collins Who? Surely you must mean Mr. Clark or Mr. Croghan.” Mr. Collins is certainly not a name we hear around Locust Grove unless there’s a meeting of the Louisville Chapter of the Jane Austen Society in session.

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Hugh Thomson, c. 1894

This Mr. Collins, however, had not walked right out of the pages of Pride and Prejudice and onto the porch at Locust Grove. Heather had discovered the obituary below of a Mr. John Collins, who has a curious relationship to Locust Grove.

John Collins obit

Published in the National Advocate (New York, New York) and also ran in the Long Island Star, the Connecticut Courant, the New York Daily Advertiser, and the Democratic Press. 

“At the residence of Maj. William Croghan, Locust Grove, on the 9th of January, mr. JOHN COLLINS, aged 102, a native of New Jersey.

The deceased had lived in the family of Major Croghan for the last 27 years, and has uniformly enjoyed remarkable good health; he affirmed before his death that he never, in the course of his life, been blooded or taken a single potion of physic. What was remarkable in the deceased, was, that he considered everything his own, and would frequently threaten to dispossess merchants in Louisville of their goods unless they kept their accounts uniform and correct, but in other respects was perfectly sane.”

WHOA. This Mr. Collins sounds like quite a character, and he has quickly become a favorite of the denizens of Locust Grove. Other death notices and obituaries only note his age, place of residence, and the date of his death, but we are nonetheless fascinated by his existence. Docent and historian Lynn R. remarks, “It’s just the most perfect story. Heather deserves extra cookies for finding him.” (I agree!)

No research has been discovered to support the idea that Mr. Collins was a blood relative of the Croghans, but it seems that he was a long-time part member of the household. According to Heather, our manuscript collection includes only one mention of a Mr. Collins in a letter written by William Croghan, Sr. in 1796:

“There are no surveys in either offices in Reynolds name, from the Situation of those Warrants & entries you should have got them Cheap from Mr. Reynolds. In my last letter to you I informed you that you omited one of your Warrants No 3580 for 2666 ⅔ are in the power you sent Mr. Collins to convey to me or any person I might direct, this warrant is the principal one, the (__) under being but five Warrants of 100 Acres each. If you intend letting me have it please to send a power to convey it by the bearer Mr. John. Gwathmey whom I expect will shortly return to this Country. I received the 100 acres by Mr. Sheppard for which shall credit your acct. I am dear sir. Your most humble Servt. W. Croghan”

about-williamcroghan

William! Tell us more about your buddy!

The 1810 census includes three white males over the age of 45 living at Locust Grove. These men are most likely William Croghan, George Rogers Clark, and John Collins. Lynn Renau believes that Mr. Collins may have witnessed some of William Croghan’s legal transactions and did some recording keeping as well, as not all of the family accounts are in William Croghan’s hand. Lynn and Heather’s working theory is that some of these accounts could have been the work of John Collins, who may have been a clerk for the Croghans. We have no records of John Collins’ burial, and there is no record that John Collins’ grave was removed to Cave Hill Cemetery with the rest of the Croghans, so it is likely that he remains here at Locust Grove in the original family cemetery.

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Where are you, Mr. Collins?

Heather notes that “I have no doubt there’s documentation floating around out there to help us fill in his story. It’s just a matter of finding the time to look for them. I do find it interesting that this man lived with the family for years and appears to have been a long time business partner of William Croghan’s, yet he is only mentioned in that one family letter […] I can’t wait to learn more about him when I have the time.”

As soon as we know more about Mr. Collins, we’ll be sure to update you all! Until then, we’re looking for volunteers to profile on this blog! Our volunteers are incredible, and they deserve the spotlight! If you’d like to be profiled, fill out the form located here. Thank you for all that you do!

We also want to hear from everyone who has ever visited Locust Grove, toured the house and grounds, followed us on social media, attended one of our programs and events, or even thought about Locust Grove! You can help us out by taking our quick survey here. Your thoughts really are  important to us as we look to the future of Locust Grove!

And don’t forget–the Spring Used Book Sale is March 4-6! Thousands of books are ready to make new homes on your shelves. We can’t wait to see you!

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With sincere good wishes,

Hannah

 

A Good Man Needs a Good Coat: Dressing Thomas Jesup

Weddings are always exciting, especially historical ones, and we at Locust Grove are deep in the throes of preparations for the reenactment of Ann Croghan and Thomas Jesup’s wedding on July 18! When we last checked in with the wedding, we admired Hannah Stoppel’s magnificent craftsmanship of Ann’s wedding dress, and now, it’s the gentlemen’s turn! Our Program Manager Brian Cushing, and our Thomas Jesup Brandon Vigliarolo are hard at work on the 1822 uniform coat that will serve as Jesup’s wedding attire. This is a very special project, so I’ll turn it over to them to tell you all about it!

First of all, let me introduce you to these two gentlemen. Brian is a Louisville native, a historic clothing aficionado, the chief of our Costumed Interpreter corps, and our current Program Manager. Brandon is a native of Michigan, a graduate of Michigan State University, a four-year veteran of the United States Army as an MP, Hannah Stoppel’s real-life boyfriend, a copywriter, and Locust Grove’s 1816 Dr. John Croghan. Brian and Brandon also take on other historical roles–recently they portrayed William Henry Harrison and Henry Clay, respectively.

Tippecanoe and Brandon too.

Tippecanoe and Brandon too.

Now, on to the important things: how did this wedding reenactment come about? Why choose Ann and Jesup over another couple? 

Brian: The way I remember it, the idea to have a Summer “come one, come all” living history soiree on the grounds occurred at about the same time when we had to call off the historical ball in 2014 due to the threat of bad weather (basically- why aren’t we doing a version of this when we can’t get snowed out!!??). Then we started playing with the idea of incorporating an interpretation of an event that happened at Locust Grove that wouldn’t ordinarily fit into any of our interpretations to provide an interactive, educational, Locust Grove centered theme for the day.  When it became apparent that the first year for the event would also act as a stand in for the Jane Austen Festival while it is on hiatus, the 1822 wedding made the most sense as a complement to that idea. As far as why that one and not any other- one is that it happened at Locust Grove, whereas William and Lucy were married elsewhere.  Ann and Jesup’s wedding just seems to be a favorite in the current “Locust Grove consciousness.”

Who was Thomas Jesup? Why is he significant?

Brian: SO much more to tell [about him] than I am recalling at the moment. He was a veteran of the War of 1812 and by 1822, Quartermaster General of the US Army. After William Croghan, Sr. died (not long after the wedding) Jesup wound up in a very prominent role as one of the heads of the family. His advice was constantly sought by pretty much everyone and he was one of the ones repeatedly bailing George Croghan out of trouble.

The pattern pieces for the coat Brandon will wear as Jesup.

The pattern pieces for the coat Brandon will wear as Jesup.

Brandon, how did you get the honor of being Jesup?

Brandon: When the event was first announced it was pretty much an immediate decision to cast Hannah as Ann — I don’t even know if they considered anyone else, which I think speaks volumes to her abilities as an actress, interpreter, and costumer.

I (albeit jokingly) was not too sure I was happy with the idea of someone else playing Hannah’s pretend husband, and did a fair deal of pouting when I was told that we definitely needed a John Croghan, and that they were looking for a Jesup. Due to other obligations, we were left without a Jesup, so I was asked to step in!I’m still not sure if it was because they trust me to play a good Jesup or because they wanted to put a stop to the pouting.

Brian:  I would like to point out that I think it is fitting that our one US Army veteran currently with the interpreter corps gets to wear this insane uniform.

A proper coat requires a proper fit.

A proper coat requires a proper fit.

What can people expect the day of the wedding? 

Brian: The wedding will be the unifying theme to what we want to be a laid back, enjoyable time for living history people of any period/caliber or just the curious to spend a day enjoying the beauty and history at Locust Grove and remembering why we love it so much and why it is important to work so hard to make it the best it can be. Wedding “preparation” will happen throughout the day as well as a performance of Jane Austen’s juvenilia by an actress from KY Shakespeare (for those who need their July Austen fix!), food for sale, an evening ball, and a special visit from HMS Acasta– commemorating the bicentennial of their last trip home.

What’s the deal with this coat? Why is it significant?

Brian: We have gone to a great deal of effort over the past couple years to be sure our first person interpreters appear as authentically as possible to the way people did at the time they portray. So when we took on the 1822 wedding, we knew we had to be all in. Hannah Stoppel set the bar high with her research and construction of an 1822 wedding gown for Ann. Carol made the final call that Jesup should be dressed correctly in uniform rather than a civilian alternative since the military was so much a part of this family and that Locust Grove would support the effort. The uniform regulations had just changed in 1821. The problem was, resources for such things tend to center around wars and since we were between major wars in 1821, this thing took quite a bit more detective work than had we been doing a scenario occurring during the Revolution or War of 1812.

What research went into making the coat?  How is it being constructed?

Brian:  A lot of interesting people have assisted our search for information and resources and the team we have working on this thing is beyond amazing with their skill and commitment to making sure this is done as best it can be so that the final product is nothing short of a museum level interpretation. You will never here these guys say, “No one will know the difference;” It’s correct or it’s not. I did the pattern and have handled cutting, fitting, and initial construction of the structure of the coat.Amy Liebert, Hannah Stoppel, Melissa Alexander, and Mia Seitz will detail work, pad stitching, finishing, and all around everything else.

The main fabric is a deep blue wool broadcloth, heavily milled- the edges will for the most part be left raw and will hold that edge without fraying. The buttonholes and blind stitched buttonholes will all be done by hand with silk buttonhole twist, deep blue matching the coating color. Nathanael Logsdon of Taylor Rose Historical Outfitters got the 2 gold epaulettes done for us and Steve Abolt of Allegheny Arsenal was able to provide us with the correct gold stars that are prescribed for the base of the tails. Blue was affirmed as the correct color for uniforms of the United States army- shortages during the War of 1812 had lead to quite a variety being seen. The regulations of 1813 ushered in an elegant simplicity to the army’s uniforms, which was continued in 1821. Contrasting colors and metallic lace was left behind.

The army updated its uniform regulations from the 1813 version in 1821. I have yet to find an extant 1821 staff officer coat or a portrait of anyone definitely wearing one. The regulations still exist, though, and we had advice from Steve Abolt, who has dug further into this than we probably ever will. I am watching the massive amounts of embellishment (that will nevertheless appear subdued) go in by hand right now, and the buttons are on the way (MUCH more difficult to find than we anticipated). So- fingers crossed- we have an incredible team and we are determined.

An in-progress 1821 regulation staff officer's coat!

An in-progress 1821 regulation staff officer’s coat!

Brandon: Honestly I don’t think I have a whole lot to add since the research, construction, planning, and organization of the coat and event was very much a Brian accomplishment. All I get to do is make it look good.

Brandon, you’re a relative newbie to the Locust Grove team. What do you enjoy about it? Brian, why do you stick around? 

Brandon: I love Locust Grove  because of the chance it gives me to have a face-to-face encounter with history. There’s something powerful about a physical space that has existed as home to countless generations of people, and something amazing about being able to be a part of that history. I also enjoy the difference in the depth of the history between Michigan and Louisville — there aren’t too many places as old as Locust Grove in the north!

Brian: I came to Locust Grove in Nov., 1999 as a costumed interpreter. Never thought it would one day actually be part of my job. And it’s not just a job- bringing the past alive is what I spend most of my time trying to figure out how to most effectively do. I’m really honored to be able to put that to work at Locust Grove with the incredible potential it has for it and the relevance it has to the modern museum audience. The Jesup coat presented a unique challenge- we had made the commitment to not compromising on quality when it came to interpreting material culture in the past so we couldn’t stop here.

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Well, gentlemen, after all the work that has been put into this coat and this wedding, we can’t wait to see it in person on July 18! Thank you so much for all your hard work and devotion to this project and to Locust Grove! Wedding guests can find all the details of the day here and you can check in on Hannah and the making of Ann’s wedding finery here. We could not be more delighted about this wedding than if we were Croghans ourselves, so we certainly hope you will join us for this splendid occasion!

With great anticipation, I remain,

Hannah

(All photographs courtesy of Brian Cushing and Brandon Vigliarolo) 

Here Comes the Bride: Ann Croghan’s Wedding Dress

Here at Locust Grove, we host dozens of weddings each year, but we are especially excited for the wedding being held on July 18 this summer. It’s a homegrown affair, as Ann Croghan, daughter of Lucy Clark Croghan and William Croghan, marries General Thomas Jesup at her family home in 1822. This reenactment will take the place of our ever-popular Jane Austen Festival, which is on a one year hiatus, but we are excited to share the joy of the day with visitors and friends alike! Guests are invited to dress in the attire of their favorite historical period, bring a picnic lunch, and join in all the merriment! More information on the event can be found here, but of course, we’ll be covering all the preparations for the festivities here on the blog!

To that end, I’d like to introduce you to two very important people.

Brandon and Hannah, our historical bride and groom!

Brandon and Hannah, our historical bride and groom!

Meet Brandon Vigliarolo and Hannah Stoppel, two of our costumed interpreters who have stepped into the shoes of Ann Croghan and Thomas Jesup. They have been working incredibly hard already to prepare for this momentous occasion, and it only seemed right to highlight all of their wonderful work, beginning with the simply beautiful wedding dress Hannah has created.

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Don’t worry Brandon, we’ll get to you and your fancy hat soon!

Hannah Stoppel has been interested in sewing from a young age. Growing up in Northern Michigan, she saw her grandmother, a quilter and “champion knitter” often and as Hannah says, “she was always making beautiful things. We all had quilts, sweaters, mittens that she had made. She even knit potholders out of cotton crochet thread and I will maintain to the ends of the earth that you will never find a better potholder anywhere […] When I was little, she taught me to hand sew. She didn’t sew clothing, but I was interested in garment making from the start, and she taught me what she knew.”

Hannah attended Michigan State University, where she majored in English and Creative Writing with a minor in Theatre. She moved from acting to the costuming department due to her growing interest in costume history, and starting her sophomore year, worked in the costume shop where she learned much of her sewing skills. She also learned wig-making, a trade she still practices for “her daily crust.” In Hannah’s words, “my very favorite thing about studying costumes was costume history. It fascinates me, the way it is a beautiful illustration of the world in fabric. Everything in fashion happens for a reason, even if that reason seems absurd to us looking back. Political, cultural and economic changes are all reflected in silhouette, fabric and embellishment, and like all history, one look only makes sense in the context of the looks that came before it.”

Volunteering as a costumed interpreter at Locust Grove was a natural progression for Hannah’s many skills and interests. She was “sucked to Locust Grove” when she and Brandon moved to Kentucky as she took a job at the Custom Wig Company, and attended last year’s Jane Austen Festival. Hannah and Brandon  “loved the house and the property from the moment we got there. We didn’t know anyone here except people we’d met at Locust Grove, we didn’t have anything to do. Basically, we were doomed from the start, and Costumed Interpreting was the perfect place for us.”

We’re so glad to have both of you! Now, to find out more about the wedding and of course, the dress!

What is the background behind Ann’s dress and weddings of the time period? 

Weddings were special and exciting of course, but they weren’t the insanity we think of today—no six months of planning, no bedazzled evening gowns, no diamond engagement ring, no two hundred guests. Most people, Thomas Jesup and Ann Croghan included, were married within a few months of their engagement. Most ordinary women would simply have worn their ‘best’ clothes. Wealthy women, like Ann Croghan, would have had a dress made for the occasion, but probably would have worn it after the wedding as well, instead of packing it away like we do today. White, silver and blue were fashionable colors for wedding dresses among the upper class. White was the most popular, but not yet the end-all-be-all wedding dress color.

The 1822 dress of Mrs. Peder Hjort of Denmark gave Hannah inspiration for Ann's dress.

The 1822 dress of Mrs. Peder Hjort of Denmark gave Hannah inspiration for Ann’s dress.

How did you go about researching and designing the dress?

I started by looking at as many wedding dresses from 1820-1822 as I could find. There aren’t a lot. Since wedding dresses were usually put into the bride’s normal wardrobe after the wedding, many women’s wedding gowns wore out like any other garment, and two hundred years is a long time for any gown to survive, especially one made of fine silk. I ended up using four actual wedding gowns as my inspiration, plus a few non-wedding dresses. My main inspiration came from Mrs. Peder Hjort’s wedding dress from 1822. All of the major details of the dress came from actual wedding gowns.

I was asked to portray Ann back in January, and I started collecting research then. In February, once I had found everything I wanted, I started sketching the design, mainly using Mrs. Hjort’s dress, but pulling in details I liked better from other gowns. When it came to the whole wedding outfit, I found fashion plates from Costume Parisien from the early ‘20s, and was able to pull together the rest of the outfit—most importantly the hairstyles and headdress, which instead of the bonnets fashionable earlier in the Regency, was a veil attached to a lacy base that fit around the elaborate hairdo.

Hannah's design for the dress

Hannah’s design for the dress

 

What kinds of materials did you use and where did you get them?

If we’re being honest, the Croghans were very wealthy, and Ann’s dress was probably silk. But I am not very wealthy, so mine is made of fine, sheer cotton. It’s a perfectly period material, but not necessarily what she would have worn. The dress has two layers. The inner layer is a very lightweight blue cotton from Mood Fabrics, the outer layer is sheer Swiss dot, which another interpreter, Melissa Alexander, had massive amounts of and was willing to sell me for very cheap, which was awesome, since I was already planning to use Swiss dot in order to have some extra textural interest. In the end, the most expensive part of the dress is probably the lace, which is a beautiful French cotton edging. You just can’t skimp on lace.

How long did it take to research, design, and make the dress?

Research and design was about two months, although it was a pretty on-and-off thing. I wasn’t sitting down for hours every night. The dress was entirely hand sewn, since we thought it would be interesting and fun to make the dress as it would have been made in 1822. It took 97 hours, and that’s only the hours I spent. I managed to bribe other people to help me with the construction, and I’d estimate they spent another 25 hours. So well over 100 hours all-together.

The partially finished bodice.

The partially finished bodice.

What was the best part about making the dress?

Well, altering a pattern that significantly and having it all come together without too many hitches is a really great feeling. In terms of the process though, what’s not to love about throwing a big tea party with tons of snacks, and having some of your favorite people come over and eat and chat while you con them into helping you sew this big insane project that you agreed to do?

What was your least favorite part of the project? 

I always budget time for a project carefully and give myself goals to reach every day. Thirteen handsewn pintucks were not kind to my hyper-organized schedule. I’m thrilled with how they look, though.

What do you want people to know about historical dressmaking?

When it comes to doing research: trust, but verify. Other people can be great sources of information, but you never know how good their research was, or where they might be making assumptions.

Also, I can’t emphasize enough, the importance of correct undergarments. No matter how beautifully constructed your outer garments are, nothing will ever look right without the right foundation. People who aren’t experts might not be able to put their finger on what’s wrong, but everything will look off. It makes an incredible difference.

In progress sleeve puffs!

In progress sleeve puffs!

How can people learn more about historical clothing?

As with all history, first-hand resources are always best—extant garments, magazines, paintings, drawings and other artifacts from the actual period. Many museums have their collections photographed and up online, but always take date ranges and ensembles with a pinch of salt.

There are lots of books that give an overview of fashion history, and these are a great starting resource, because how can you look at an extant garment and determine an approximate date without knowing the basic characteristics of an era? I really love my copy of the Smithsonian’s book Fashion: The Definitive History of Costume and Style.

If you’re looking specifically for the Regency and/or early Romantic, the entire run of the magazine known as Ackermann’s Repository, which was published from 1809-1829 is online at archive.org. There are fashion plates with descriptions in each monthly issue, and often a more detailed article on current fashions of the day.

Sewing by hand!

Sewing by hand!

What are you looking forward to regarding the historical picnic? Namely, are you excited and why?

I love English Country Dancing, so I’m very excited for the ball, especially since I’ve been so busy lately that I haven’t had a chance to dance in a while! The Kentucky Shakespeare Co. are awesome, so seeing them read selections from one of my favorite authors will be a treat. I also can’t wait to see people’s costumes. I hope there are tons of different eras! Any day that I get to hang out in costume at Locust Grove is a good day!

Hannah in the finished gown1

Hannah in the finished gown!

Hannah, your work is beautiful, and we can’t wait to see it in person on July 18! You can find more on Hannah’s on blog here. Stop by again soon for more updates on wedding preparations!

Merrily yours,

Hannah Z.