Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Letters from Lucy Stephenson: June 22, 1821

I was asked by the Edwardsville Intelligencer newspaper to write a monthly column about Stephenson House. After much thought, I decided to write letters in the voice of Lucy Stephenson; the matriarch of the historic home (1820-1834). These letters weave together historical events, present-day, and my imagings of what her life may have been like. Originally published in the Edwardsville Intelligencer, July 3, 2021,

NOTE: The word 'receipt' was the period term for 'recipe'.

June 22, 1821

Edwardsville, Illinois


My dear friend, I have been rather lax in my letter writing of late. Now that the gardens are planted, I hope to have more time to send you news. Life on our farm has kept all of us exceedingly busy this spring. We endeavor to keep the deer out of the garden plots this season. As you may remember from my last letter, they completely decimated our crops last year. There was hardly enough food to put up to get us through the winter. Ben consulted with several local gardeners, more knowledgeable than he, on possible remedies to our problem but we are hopeful that our current solution, will discourage the animals from helping themselves to our hard-earned produce. It is quite ingenious, I must say. Mrs. Donna Bardon, Mrs. Deborah Rathert, Mr. William Eaton, and Mrs. Carol Gardner were the gardeners Ben consulted. They designed and built a tall fence, which exceeds 8 feet in height, around our main garden. It is constructed of wire and wooden posts from which hang various lengths of colorful ribbons. The movement from the ribbons as well as the height discourages the deer from trying to jump into the beds. It is with great happiness that I can say, it has worked grandly so far. No deer have been in the garden since the fence was complete. Unfortunately, we have not been as successful in keeping the rabbits out. But I suppose, there must always be something to keep us occupied.

As you may recall, several years ago I establish a small Academy for the education and betterment of young ladies from local families. It has been most successful. A lovely group of girls attended the first session last week to which we presented several topics for their amusement, and I must say to mine as well. Young minds are so willing to embrace unknown challenges. Each attendee accepted the opportunity to learn with great vigor. Some of the lessons I, and my good instructresses, sought to impart included sewing, penmanship, writing a proper letter, paper quilling, crafting a puzzle purse, baking in the beehive oven, and making a refreshing drinking vinegar.

The weather has turned quite pleasant this week. It was so stiflingly hot last week that the reprieve is very welcome. I must tell you the heat was so overbearing on the last day of the Academy that one of the poor dears nearly fainted. A small bit of ice, still stored in the cellar from winter harvesting, was wrapped in a bit of linen cloth and placed upon her neck with strict instructions for her to lay upon the settee in the parlor until it was completely melted. My friend, Mrs. Kathleen Schmidt, fanned her vigorously until her color returned. After her rest, she was quite recovered.

Well, I find that my duties must be seen to so my letter must end. One parting bit of information must be given though. In your last letter, you requested the Tea Cake receipt that Winn is quite renown for here in Edwardsville. She has written it out and I enclose it here.

Tea Cake.

There is a kind of tea cake still cheaper. Three cups of sugar, three eggs, one cup of butter, one cup of milk, a spoonful of dissolved pearlash, and four cups of flour, well beat up. If it is so stiff it will not stir easily, add a little more milk.


Give my affections to your family. Please write to me soon as I promise to do the same.

Yours In Friendship,

Lucy Stephenson

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