Sunday, December 27, 2015

George Washington as an American Freemason

William Joseph Williams (1759-1823) George Washington, Mason, 1794

In July 1792, Washington had turned down a request for a sitting from American artist William Joseph Williams, telling Governor Henry Lee of Virginia: "I am so heartily tired of the attendance which, from one cause or another, I have bestowed on these kind of people, that it is now more than two years since I have resolved to sit no more for any of them; and have adhered to it; except in instances where it has been requested by public bodies, or for a particular purpose (not of the Painters) and could not, without offence, be refused. I have been led to make this resolution for another reason besides the irksomeness of sitting, and the time I loose by it, which is, that these productions have, in my estimation, been made use of as a sort of tax upon individuals, by being engraved, and that badly, and hawked, or advertised for Sale." Williams then offered to paint Washington's portrait for the Alexandria (Virginia) Masonic Lodge No. 22. Lodge officers wrote Washington in 1793 that it would be " a source of the most refined gratification the tracing out and contemplating the various ornaments of his character in the resemblance of his person." Williams's portrait shows Washington as a Virginia past master, with Masonic regalia and jewels. Williams's careful depiction includes a scar on Washington's left cheek, smallpox scars on his nose and cheeks, and a mole under his right ear.

George Washington joined the Masonic Lodge in Fredericksburg, Virginia at the age of 20 in 1752. During the War for Independence, General Washington attended Masonic celebration and religious observances in several states. He also supported Masonic Lodges that formed within army regiments.  At his first inauguration in 1791, President Washington took his oath of office on a Bible from St. John's Lodge in New York. During his two terms, he visited Masons in North and South Carolina and presided over the cornerstone ceremony for the U.S. Capitol in 1793.  In retirement, Washington became charter Master of the newly chartered Alexandria Lodge No. 22, sat for a portrait in his Masonic regalia, and in death, was buried with Masonic honors.

A Timeline of George Washington's Masonic Activities

November 4, 1752 - Initiated as Entered Apprentice at Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4, Fredericksburg, Virginia.


March 3, 1753 - Passed to the Degree of Fellow Craft at Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4
August 4, 1753 - Raised a Master Masaon at Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4.


December 28, 1778 - Marched in a Masonic procession in celebration of Saint John the Evangelist Day


June 24, 1779 - Celebrated Saint John the Baptist Day with American Union Military Lodge at West Point, New York
December 27, 1779 - Celebrated Saint John the Evangelist Day with American Union Military Lodge at Morristown, New Jersey


October - Reportedly visited Lodge No. 9 at Yorktown, VA with General Lafayette after defeat of British General Cornwallis


Brothers Watson and Cassoul of Nantes, France present Washington with exquisite silk Masonic apron, acknowledged by letter dated August 10
June 24, 1782 - St. John the Baptist celebration - Marked with American Union Military Lodge at West Point, New York.
December 27, 1782 - St. John the Evangelist Day - Celebrated with Solomon's Lodge No. 1, Poughkeepsie, New York.


June 24, 1784 - St. John the Baptist celebration - Marked with Alexandria Lodge, Alexandria, Virginia
June 24, 1784 - Made an honorary member of Alexandria Lodge No. 39 (Now Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22) Alexandria, Virginia
August 1784 - Presented a Masonic apron made by Madame de Lafayette to General and Bro. de Lafayette


February 12, 1785 - Walked in Masonic funeral procession for Bro. William Ramsay at Alexandria, Virginia


April 28, 1788 - Named Charter Worshipful Master of Alexandria Lodge No. 22 when a new charter from the Grand Lodge of Virginia was issued. Unanimously re-elected Master December 20, 1788 for one year.


Elected honorary member of Holland Lodge No. 8, New York, NY
April 30- Inaugurated President of the United States using Bible from St. John's Lodge No. 1, New York

The George Washington Bible, which belongs to St. Johns Lodge in New York City, was first used on April 30, 1789, by the Grand Master of the Masons in New York, to administer the oath of office to George Washington. Other presidents who took their oath of office with this Bible are Warren G. Harding, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter, and George Bush.


April 15, 1791 - Welcomed by members of St. John's Lodge No. 2, New Bern, NC

May 1791 - Received the greetings of the Grand Lodge of South Carolina by General Mordecai Gist, Grand Master, Charleston, SC


September 18 Acting Grand Master - Laid the cornerstone for the United States Capitol, Washington, D.C. 


1794 William Williams painted Washington in Masonic regalia at the request of Alexandria Lodge 1797 March 28 Received a Masonic delegation from Alexandria Lodge.

Artist Hattie E. Burdette (1872-1955) depicts George Washington here donning full masonic regalia, including the apron, which bears a pyramid icon. His hat is adorned with a masonic compass, and he wears a sunburst around his neck. The apron also features the American flag crossed with another. A ''G'' hovers over his shoulder, rumored to symbolize God. The original was painted especially for the United States George Washington Bicentennial Commission.


April 1, 1798 - Attended Alexandria Lodge No. 22 Proposed a toast at the banquet that followed


December 18, 1799 - Buried at Mount Vernon with Masonic rites as well as those of the church, conducted by Alexandria Lodge

Friday, December 25, 2015

The Nativity by English artist Stanley Spencer 1891-1959

 Stanley Spencer, (English painter, 1891-1959) The Nativity 1912

Much of Stanley Spencer's work depicts Biblical scenes happening not in the Holy Land but in the small Thames-side village, where he was born & spent most of his life. He referred to Cookham as "a village in Heaven."  He presents the literature of the Bible as incidents of Cookham village life.  He uses images of his neighbors as stand-ins for their Gospel counterparts, lending Christian teachings an eerie immediacy. Spencer's The Nativity won first prize in the Slade Summer Composition Competition of 1912.

Spencer later explained the composition of this painting: The couple occupy the centre of the picture, Joseph who is to the extreme right doing something to the chestnut tree and Mary who stands by the manager; they appear in their relationship with the elements generally, so that Mary to the couple in contact with one another seems like some preonderating element of life, just another big fact of nature such as a tree or a waterfall or a field or a river. Joseph is only related to Mary in this picture by some sacramental ordinance... This relationship has always interested me and in those early works I contemplated a lot of those unbearable relationships between men and women. (Tate Gallery Archive, 733.2.85)

Stanley Spencer, (English painter, 1891-1959) The Coming of the Wise Men to the Nativity

A Sleeping 17C Baby

Bernardo Strozzi (Italian painter, 1581-1644) Sleeping Child

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Young Nantucket woman paints Winter 1797

Phebe Folger Coleman (1771-1857) Winter  A schoolgirl copy of the Winter print of the Four Seasons Mezzotints published by Sayers and Bennett in London in 1785.  They were hand-colored allegories of the seasons.

Phebe Folger Coleman (1771-1857) Un receuil :containing painting, penmanship, algebra and pieces selected from various authors in prose and verse, with a few pieces in French with their translation by Phebe  of Nantucket : manuscript, c 1797. MS Typ 245. Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

Phebe Folger (1771-1857) was a Nantucket commonplacebook author, watercolorist, poet, needlework instructor, & creator of the well-known “Nantucket sampler” style. She was born in Nantucket, Massachusetts, on November 10, 1771 to Walter Folger (1735-1826) & his wife Elizabeth Starbuck (1738-1821).  She married Samuel Coleman (1771-1825) in Nantucket at the age of 27 on December 6, 1798.  They had 2 daughters who lived to adulthood, & 3 additional daughters who died as children.  Her husband, Samuel Coleman, worked at sea.  She wrote him this letter during the 10th year of their marriage. Nantucket 9th mo. 19th 1808.  Dear Husband,  "I have felt a little guilty that I have deferred so long to write: but I had nothing worth communicating, nothing but what thou might reasonably suppose, that is, that I am very lonesome. Why should so much of our time be spent apart, why do we refuse the happiness that is within our reach? Is the acquisition of wealth an adequate compensation for the tedious hours of absence? To me it is not. The enjoyment of riches alone could give no satisfaction to me. In company I am not happy, I feel as if a part of my self was gone. Thy absence grows more insupportable than it used to be. I want for nothing but thy company: but there is nothing but what I could do better without..."

They moved near the Hudson River in Hudson City, Columbia County, New York, where they operated a grist mill.  Phebe continued to run the mill after her husband's death in 1825. Sometime after 1850, Phebe moved to Fairhaven, Massachusetts, to live with her daughter Matilda (1812-1891) & her husband John Milton Howland (1810-1902).  Phebe died at the age of 87 in Fairhaven.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

England's Queen Charlotte

 1761 Esther Denner (daughter of Balthasar Denner) Queen Charlotte, Princess Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, 1744 - 1818. Queen of George III About 1763

 1770 Nathaniel Dance Holland (Inglese artist, 1735-1811) Queen Charlotte, Princess Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, 1744 - 1818. Queen of George III About 1763

1773 Nathaniel Dance Holland (Inglese artist, 1735-1811) Queen Charlotte, Princess Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, 1744 - 1818. Queen of George III About 1763

Henry Robert Morland. (Inglese artist, 1719-1797) Queen Charlotte, Princess Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, 1744 - 1818. Queen of George III About 1763

Joshua Reynolds (Inglese artist, 1723-1792) Queen Charlotte, Princess Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, 1744 - 1818. Queen of George III About 1763

Studio of Allan Ramsey (English artist, 1713-1784) Queen Charlotte, Princess Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, 1744 - 1818. Queen of George III About 1763

Monday, December 7, 2015

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Winter Solstice - The Druids & Mistletoe

Druids formed the professional class in ancient Celtic society. They performed the functions of modern day priests, teachers, poets, ambassadors, astronomers, genealogists, philosophers, musicians, theologians, scientists, & judges. Druids led public rituals often held within fenced groves of sacred trees.  

The word "Druidae" is of Celtic origin. The Roman writer Pliny the Elder (Gaius Plinius Secundus, 23/24-79 A.D.) believed it to be a cognate with the Greek work "drus," meaning "an oak." "Dru-wid" combines the word roots "oak" & "knowledge" ("wid" means "to know" or "to see" - as in the Sanskrit "vid"). The oak (together with the rowan & hazel) was an important sacred tree to the Druids. In the Celtic social system, Druid was a title given to learned men & women possessing "oak knowledge" (or "oak wisdom").

Some scholars have argued that Druids originally belonged to a pre-Celtic ('non-Aryan') population in Britain & Ireland (from where they spread to Gaul), noting that there is no trace of Druidism among Celts elsewhere - in Cisalpine Italy, Spain, or Galatia (modern Turkey). Others, however, believe that Druids were an indigenous Celtic intelligentsia to be found among all Celtic peoples, but were known by other names.

The Winter Solstice is the time of the death of the old sun & the birth of the dark-half of the year.   The Winter Solstice was called "Alban Arthuan," Welch for "Light of Winter" by the Druids.  This was a time of dread for the ancient peoples, as they saw the days getting shorter & shorter. A great ritual was needed to revert the course of the sun. 

This time for the ritual may have been calculated by the great circles of stone & burial grounds which are aligned to the Winter Solstice, such as Stonehenge in England & Newgrange in County Meath, Ireland.   John Aubrey, writing in the 17C first thought it a "probability" that stone circles, such as Stonehenge, "were Temples of the Druids" titling his text on stone circles the "Templa Druidum."   This idea was picked up by William Stukeley, in the early 18C, who subtitled his 1st book, Stonehenge, published in 1740, "a Temple Restored to the British Druids, and his 2nd publication on Avebury, published in 1743, "a Temple of the British Druids."   Although later, in the 19C, Sir John Lubbock (1834-1913) dated Stonehenge to a period much earlier than the time of the Druids (that is, to about 3000 B.C., whereas the Druids don't appear in the historical record until 1800 years later), nonetheless the view was maintained by some, that Druids were pre-Celtic inhabitants of Britain & that the religious beliefs & practices for which Stonehenge was built are ancestral to those of the laterday Celtic Druids.  And the speculation continues.

Sure enough, the next day after the great Druid Winter Solstice celebration, the Sun began to move higher into the sky, showing that it had been reborn.  For the Druids, the Winter Solstice is the end of month of the Elder Tree & the start of the month of the Birch.  This is the time of the Serpent Days or transformation.  The Elder & Birch stand at the entrance to Annwn or Celtic underworld where all life was formed. As in several other Druid myths, they guard the entrance to the underworld.  At this time, the Sun God journeys through the underworld to learn the secrets of death & life and to bring out those souls to be reincarnated. 

Mistletoe has a compelling Druid history. According to ancient Druid tradition, Mistletoe was the most sacred of all plants. Mistletoe was used by Druid priests in a ceremony which was held 5 days after the New Moon following Winter Solstice. The Druid priests would cut Mistletoe from a holy Oak tree with a golden sickle. The branches had to be caught before they touched the ground.  The priest then divided the branches into sprigs & dispersed them to the people, who hung them over doorways as protection.  Druids believed Mistletoe had miraculous properties that could cure illnesses, antidote poisons, ensure fertility, & protect against evil witchcraft. It was also a sign of peace & goodwill. When warring tribes came across Mistletoe, a temporary truce would be observed until the next day. 

Tradition relates that on the Winter Solstice, Druids would gather by the oldest mistletoe-clad oak. The Chief Druid would make his way to the mistletoe to be cut whilst below, other Druids would hold open a sheet to catch it, making sure none of it touched the ground.  With his golden sickle the Chief Druid would remove the mistletoe to be caught below.  It is said that the early Christian church banned the use of mistletoe because of its association with Druids.

The Winter Solstice - 3200 BC Prehistoric Passage Tombs or Monuments

Newgrange in County Meath, Ireland

Newgrange is a prehistoric structure in County Meath, Ireland.  It was built during the Neolithic period around 3200 BC, making it older than Stonehenge & the Egyptian pyramids.  According to carbon-14 dates, it is about 500 years older than the current form of Stonehenge, and the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, as well as predating the Mycenaean culture of ancient Greece.  The site consists of a large circular mound with a stone passageway & interior chambers. The mound has a retaining wall at the front & is ringed by engraved kerbstones. 

Entrance to Newgrange in Ireland in  1905, when the mound had become largely overgrown.

Newgrange contains various examples of abstract Neolithic rock art carved onto it. These carvings fit into 10 categories, 5 of which are curvilinear (circles, spirals, arcs, serpentiniforms & dot-in-circles) and the other 5 of which are rectilinear (chevrons, lozenges, radials, parallel lines & offsets). There is no agreement among archaeologist & historians about what the site was used for, but it has been speculated that it had religious significance – it is aligned with the rising sun & its light floods the chamber on the winter solstice.

Entrance to Newgate in Ireland today

A passage grave or tomb or monument consists of a narrow passage made of large stones & one or multiple burial? chambers covered in earth or stone. The building of passage tombs usually dates from the Neolithic Age.  Those with more than one chamber may have multiple sub-chambers leading off from a main chamber.  One common layout, the cruciform passage grave, is cross-shaped.  Not all passage graves have been found to contain evidence of human remains. One such example is Maeshowe in Scotland.  Maeshowe is a Neolithic chambered passage monument or grave situated on Mainland, Orkney, Scotland.  It was probably built around 2800 BCE.  Megalithic art has been identified carved into the stones at some sites. The passage itself, in a number of notable instances, is aligned in such a way that the sun shines into the passage at a significant point in the year, for example at the winter solstice.

Maeshowe in Orkney, Scotland

Passage tombs or monuments are distributed extensively in lands along the Atlantic seaboard of Europe. They are found in Ireland, Britain, Scandinavia, northern Germany, & the Drenthe area of the Netherlands. They are also found in Iberia, some parts of the Mediterranean, & along the northern coast of Africa. In Ireland & Britain, passage tombs or monuments are often found in large clusters. Many later passage tombs were constructed at the tops of hills or mountains, perhaps because their builders intended them to be seen from a great distance.

Maeshowe Entrance today

Thursday, November 26, 2015

One of my favorite turkey paintings

Stanley Spencer, (English painter, 1891-1959) Turkeys 1946

New England - 1629 Fat Partridges & other "strange fowls"

A Short and True Description of New England
by the Rev. Francis Higginson, 1629
Printed for Michael Sparke, London, 1630.

Francis Higginson (1588-1630) was an early Puritan minister in Colonial New England, and the first minister of Salem, Massachusetts.

Fowls of the air are plentiful here, and of all sorts as we have in England as far as I can learn, and a great many of strange fowls which we know not.

Eagle woodcut from 1577

Whilst I was writing these things, one of our men brought home an eagle which he had killed in the wood. They say they are good meat. Also here are many kinds of excellent hawks, both sea hawks and land hawks.

And myself walking in the woods with another in company, sprung a partridge so big that through the heaviness of his body could fly but a little way. They that have killed them say they are as big as our hens.

Woodcut of partridge

Here are likewise abundance of turkeys often killed in the woods, far greater than our English turkeys, and exceeding fat, sweet and fleshy, for here they have abundance of feeding all the year long, such as strawberries: in summer all places are full of them, and all manner of berries and fruits.

Engraving of turkey

In the winter time I have seen flocks of pigeons, and have eaten of them. They do fly from tree to tree as other birds do, which our pigeons will not do in England. They are of all colors as ours are, but their wings and tails are far longer, and therefore it is likely they fly swifter to escape the terrible hawks in this country.

Woodcut of ducks

In winter time this country doth abound with wild geese, wild ducks, and other sea fowl, that a great part of winter the planters have eaten nothing but roastmeat of divers fowls which they have killed.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

17C - 19C Divorce & Wayward Wife Ads in Early America

"Stafford County, October 13th, 1751. RAN away from the Subscriber, this Day, a Servant Man, named William Frye...had on when he went away a bluish grey Kersey Coat, with yellow Buttons...The said Runaway went off with the Wife of the Subscriber, named Mary, a short, thick Woman of a dark Complexion, with black hair, black Eyes, aged about 30 Years, and has lost one of her front Teeth: She is a neat Woman in Sewing, Spinning, and knitting Stockngs, and can do almost any Manner of Taylors Work, but is oblig'd to use Spectacles when at Work. She took with her a striped Silk Stuff Gown...And, as the above-mentioned Mary has eloped from her said Husband, I hereby foreward all Persons from trusting her on my Account, for I will not pay any Debts she shall contract after the Publication hereof."  (Virginia Gazette (Hunter), Williamsburg, October 31, 1751.)

Because divorce was nearly impossible under the 17C - 18C laws of England & its colonial British American colonies, male colonists, ready to end their marriages, began to declare publicly that their wives had deserted their "bed & board," just as they had seen done in England. In England, desertion or elopement was one possible method of ending a marriage, whereby the wife was forced out of the family home, or the husband simply set up a new home with a new love. For husbands of the period, the ads were often accepted as an efficient & relatively inexpensive way to “self-divorce,” simultaneously protecting both their purses & reputations. 

In her book "Scarce Any Ways or Means;" The Separated Woman in Colonial Maryland 1634-1776, Karen Ann Lubienieck sees these adds as a husband's method of no longer having to assume responsibility for their wives debts, a major obligation of coverture. In the 17C & 18C colonial economy, there were few cash transactions, almost all were based on credit. "A man's advertisement in effect could quite literally 'discredit' his wife, and keep her from spending money that he would have to repay."

Before the American Revolution, a woman gave up so many civil & property rights when she married, that some said brides were entering a state of "civil death." Colonial law was based upon English common law. Predicated on "precedent & fixed principles," common law had dictated a subordinate position for women. Married colonial women generally were not allowed to make contracts, devise wills, take part in other legal transactions, or control any wages they might earn. All property & monies which the new wife owned before her marriage immediately became the sole property of her new husband, leaving her with nothing.  One of the few legal advantages of marriage for a woman was that her husband was obligated to support her & be responsible for her debts. One exception to this practice was in colonial Plymouth, Massachusetts, most notably contained in prenuptial agreements, where brides-to-be could enter into contractual agreements on the consolidation of property upon marriage. In some cases, especially in 2nd marriages, women in Plymouth were given exclusive right to retain control of their property separately from their husbands 

Wayward wife ads were useful as a punitive measure against the discarded wife as well. The term “elope” implied that the wife had committed adultery, so that the ad not only protected the husband’s finances, but also could ruin his wife’s reputation, whether or not the allegation of immoral behavior was true. Sometimes wives did leave their homes with the options for women in unhappy or abusive marriages tragically limited, many simply fled.

The earliest known example was in 1656, according to historian Kirsten Denise Sword, whose 2002 Harvard dissertation was on “Wayward Wives, Runaway Slaves and the Limits of Patriarchal Authority in Early America.” In 1656, Christopher Lawson posted notices around Boston warning that “none should trust” his wife Elizabeth, who he claimed planned to “blemish my name ... and ruine my estate.”

Each public ad, whether in a broadside or a newspaper, usually contained 3 consistent components: 

a reference to “my bed & board,” 
an indication that the wife had “eloped,” 
& a declaration that the husband would “no longer be responsible for her debts.”

Historian Sarah Leavitt, who analyzed such advertisements in colonial Rhode Island, described the “almost routine” phrasing: “After identifying the wife, the abandoned husband proceeded to an explanation of what she had done. Stating that she had left his bed & board was fundamental …‘My bed & board’ is perhaps the key phrase in the advertisements. Embedded in these words is the very essence of marital existence for women in the late 18C: in the eyes of the law, married women did not live in their own homes ...The most important reason for an abandoned husband to place a notice in the newspaper was to warn all local businesses, tavern & inn keepers, & other persons that he would no longer pay the debts incurred by his wife. This disclaimer of financial responsibility could have the most serious consequences for a runaway wife.”

Not all advertisements were posted by men. Women occasionally posted their own notices to get ahead of any speculation as to who had left whom, and why. Some women used the classified ads as a way to describe—in detail—the extent to which they had been victims of domestic abuse. Elizabeth Dunlap, a woman from Salem County New Jersey, had decided to leave her husband, James Dunlap, after years of abuse. During the week of March 18-25, 1742 James Dunlap published a notice in the American Weekly Mercury warning the public that his wife had “eloped” & that he would no longer be responsible for her debts. She denied the accusation on April 8, 1742, contending that she had fled the home for “the safety of her life.” In addition she warned that she would not agree to his sale of land to which she claimed a third by right of dower. James Dunlap published his own rebuttal during the week of June 10-17, 1742, denying Elizabeth's charges. (Documents relating to the Colonial History of New Jersey, 1895).

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

19C Dwellings of American Slaves before & after the Civil War

Depictions of slave cabins before the end of the Civil War

While some houses were raised off the ground, not all slaves were so fortunate. Sylvia Cannon describes living conditions during her time as a slave in an area near Florence: "There were about twenty other colored people house there in the quarter. The ground been us floor and us fireplace been down on the ground. Take sticks and make chimney, 'cause there won't no bricks and won't no sawmills to make lumber when I come along." 

Another ex-slave, Zack Herndon, explained the lack of furniture that was typical of all slave houses: "Us never had a chair in the house. My pa made benches for us to site by the fire on .... We had a large plank table that Pa made. Never had no mirrors. Went to the spring to see ourselves on a Sunday morning. Never had no such things as dressers in them days. All us had was a table, benches, and beds. And my pa made them." 

Slave Houses, Mulberry Plantation, South Carolina, ca. 1800

Slave Houses on a Rice Plantation, U.S. South, 1859 Harper's Monthly Magazine (1859), vol. 19, p. 730; accompanies article by T. Addison Richards, The Rice Lands of the South (pp. 721-38).

Slave Quarters, Louisiana, 1861-65  Adolf Carlsson Warberg, Skizzer fran Nord-Amerikanska Kriget, 1861-1865. Bref och anteckningar under en fyraarig vistelse i Forenta staterna af en i detta krig deltagande svensk officer (Stockholm, 1867-71), facing p. 308.

Plantation Village mid 1800s. Edmund Ollier, Cassell's History of the United States (London, 1874-77), Vol. 3, p. 193.

Slave Cabin on a Rice Plantation, U.S. South, 1859 Harper's Monthly Magazine, vol. 19 (1859), p. 724; accompanies article by T. Addison Richards, The Rice Lands of the South (pp. 721-38).

Slave house or cabin, 1862-65 Edwin Forbes, Life Studies of the Great Army. A historical work of art, .illustrating the life of the Union Armies during the years 1862-'3-'4'-5 (New York, E. Forbes, 1876), plate 23

Slave house or cabin, 1862-65 Edwin Forbes, Life Studies of the Great of the Union Armies during the years 1862-'3-'4'-5 (New York, E. Forbes, 1876),  1862-'3-'4'-5 plate 10

Plantation Slaves, Beaufort, South Carolina, 1862 Library of Congress

The following paintings were painted after the Civil War ended in 1865:

William Aiken Walker (American painter, 1839-1921) Cabin Scene

The dwellings of African Americans did not change dramatically after the Civil War, except that families usually occupied one cabin.  Before freedom, slaves usually slept in community cabins.  Theodore Weld collected descriptions of slave dwellings in the 1830s.  Genre painter William Aiken Walker painted many scenes of African American homes after the Civil War.

William Aiken Walker (American painter, 1839-1921) Board and Batten Northern South Carolina Cabin 1886

Stephen E. Malthy, Inspector of provisions, Skaneateles, N. Y. who has lived in Alabama. "The huts where the slaves slept, generally contained but one apartment, and that without floor.''

William Aiken Walker (American painter, 1839-1921) Cabin in the South

George A. Avery, elder of the 4th Presbyterian Church, Rochester, N. Y. who lived four years in Virginia. "Amongst all the negro cabins which I saw in Va., I can not call to mind one in which there was any other floor than the earth; anything that a northern laborer, or mechanic, white or colored, would call a bed, nor a solitary partition, to separate the sexes.''

William Aiken Walker (American painter, 1839-1921) Cabin

William Ladd, Esq., Minot, Maine. President of the American Peace Society, formerly a slaveholder in Florida. "The dwellings of the slaves were palmetto huts, built by themselves of stakes and poles, thatched with the palmetto leaf. The door, when they had any, was generally of the same materials, sometimes boards found on the beach. They had no floors, no separate apartments, except the guinea negroes had sometimes a small inclosure for their 'god house.' These huts the slaves built themselves after task and on Sundays.''

 William Aiken Walker (American painter, 1839-1921) Cabin Scene

Rev. Joseph M. Sadd, Pastor Pres. Church, Castile, Greene Co., N. Y., who lived in Missouri five years previous to 1837. "The slaves live generally in miserable huts, which are without floors, and have a single apartment only, where both sexes are herded promiscuously together.''

William Aiken Walker (American painter, 1839-1921) Cabin Scene

George W. Westgate, member of the Congregational Church in Quincy, Illinois, who has spent a number of years in slave states. "On old plantations, the negro quarters are of frame and clapboards, seldom affording a comfortable shelter from wind or rain; their size varies from 8 by 10, to 10 by 12, feet, and six or eight feet high; sometimes there is a hole cut for a window, but I never saw a sash, or glass in any. In the new country, and in the woods, the quarters are generally built of logs, of similar dimensions.''

 William Aiken Walker (American painter, 1839-1921) Cabin

Cornelius Johnson, a member of a Christian Church in Farmington, Ohio. Mr. J. lived in Mississippi in 1837-8. "Their houses were commonly built of logs, sometimes they were framed, often they had no floor, some of them have two apartments, commonly but one; each of those apartments contained a family. Sometimes these families consisted of a man and his wife and children, while in other instances persons of both sexes, were thrown together without any regard to family relationship.''

 William Aiken Walker (American painter, 1839-1921) Log Cabin with Stretched Hide on Wall

The Western Medical Reformer, in an article on the Cachexia Africana by a Kentucky physician, thus speaks of the huts of the slaves. "They are crowded together in a small hut, and sometimes having an imperfect, and sometimes no floor, and seldom raised from the ground, ill ventilated, and surrounded with filth.''

William Aiken Walker (American painter, 1839-1921) Louisiana Cabin Scene with Stretched Hide on Weatherboard and Stock Chimney Covered with Clay 1878

William Leftwich, a native of Virginia, but has resided most of his life in Madison, Co. Alabama. "The dwellings of the slaves are log huts, from 10 to 12 feet square, often without windows, doors, or floors, they have neither chairs, table, or bedstead.''

 William Aiken Walker (American painter, 1839-1921) Negro Cabin by a Palm Tree

Reuben L. Macy of Hudson, N. Y. a member of the Religious Society of Friends. He lived in South Carolina in 1818-19. "The houses for the field slaves were about 14 feet square, built in the coarsest manner, with one room, without any chimney or flooring, with a hole in the roof to let the smoke out.''

William Aiken Walker (American painter, 1839-1921) Cabin in the South

Lemuel Sapington of Lancaster, Pa. a native of Maryland, formerly a slaveholder. "The descriptions generally given of negro quarters, are correct; the quarters are without floors, and not sufficient to keep off the inclemency of the weather; they are uncomfortable both in summer and winter.''

William Aiken Walker (American painter, 1839-1921) Negro Cabin with Palm Tree

Rev. John Rankin, a native of Tennessee. "When they return to their miserable huts at night, they find not there the means of comfortable rest; but on the cold ground they must lie without covering, and shiver while they slumber."

William Aiken Walker (American painter, 1839-1921) Negro Cabin with Two-Pole Chimney

Philemon Bliss, Esq. Elyria, Ohio., who lived in Forida, in 1835. "The dwellings of the slaves are usually small open log huts, with but one apartment and very generally without floors.''  Mr. W. C. Gildersleeve, Wilkesbarre, Pa., a native of Georgia. "Their huts were generally put up without a nail, frequently without floors, and with a single apartment.''  Hon. R. J. Turnbull, of South Carolina, a slaveholder. "The slaves live in clay cabins.''

Quotes from American Slavery As It Is
Theodore Weld
New York: American Anti-Slavery Society, 1839

Images of slave cabins before the Civil War mostly from, compiled by Jerome Handler and Michael Tuite, and sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library. If there are any questions on the images before the end of the Civil War, contact Jerome Handler