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 https://www.theintelligencer.com
July 24, 1821
How delighted we
were to receive your package earlier this month containing so many wonderful
items! The children barely contained their excitement as each new surprise was
brought forth from the wrapping. I must tell you, Ben was no better than the
children in containing his curiosity. He is convinced it was sent specifically
for him since its timely arrival coincided with his birthday celebration on
July 8. As you know, Ben is quite fond of this time of year due largely to it
being his birth month, as well as, commemorating our nation's fight for
Independence. He often tells visitors to our farm that the celebrations put
forth by Edwardsville residents are, in most part, for His birthday and
not the country’s. What tales he tells! I often tease him about being old
enough to witness the signing of the Declaration when, in truth, he was but
seven years old at the time. He does so
enjoy all the merriment and fuss though, and I believe the teasing too.
Ben was honored
with a birthday song from the children attending the Academy for Young Ladies
earlier this month. They made Queen’s Cake in the kitchen with Justine which
they decorated with red, white, and blue icing (very patriotic colors to be
sure) then proceeded to the front door of the house. Upon stepping out of the door,
Ben was bombarded by their young jubilant voices wishing him many years to
come. He was very touched by their efforts. I do believe he found their song to
be his most favored gift this year. The smallest moments in our lives often
create the most lasting remembrances.
In addition to all the lively celebrations this month, we enjoyed a gathering of several War of 1812 veterans on our front lawn. As you will recall, Ben served as a Major with the Illinois Territorial Militia during the war. He is quite proud of his service, as well as the promotion to the rank of Colonel by the close of the conflict. The recent gathering of former soldiers was made up of men from the regulars and the militia. It was quite enjoyable to receive all the men, as well as their wives and children, on the farm. The gathering only lasted a couple days but the comradery was a sight to behold. It had the air of a recruitment muster held during the War with all the tents, men in colorful uniforms, and chatter about the place. I believe the men benefited greatly from the opportunity to join with others of a shared history. Admittedly, I found the company of so many ladies, from distant regions, immensely informative. We imparted so much news to one another that it shall take me another month to process it all.
The brandied pears included in your package were exceptional in their taste. So much so that I found it necessary to hide them at the back of the cellar under several layers of burlap and straw, along with a barrel, or two, stacked on top, to keep the men from the recent soldier gathering from consuming them all. We hosted a fine supper outside on long tables Saturday evening, and I do believe Ben would have given the men any food item they desired in an effort to show his appreciation for their service. But we must be aware that winter is only a few short months away. Please do not misunderstand my intentions in hiding the precious pears, we have been blessed in our good fortune and as Rev. Ballard imparts in his sermons each week, we must endeavor to share with those less fortunate, however, we cannot be foolhardy either. Caution must be practiced in all things, as well.
the receipt for the brandied pears in your next letter so that it can be added to
the household book Winn keeps in the kitchen. When I was a child, my mother was
rather fond of pears preserved in this fashion. It has been many years since I
enjoyed brandied pears, but it brings back so many wonderful memories of my youth
in the Ohio Valley. Our lone pear tree here on the farm has yet to produce
enough fruit to allow us to brandy them and what it does give, the wild animals
tend to consume before we have the opportunity to harvest. However, our peach
trees are quite prolific. Winn and I put up several crocks full of brandied
peaches last summer to which we are almost through. As I know your fondness for
new receipts is as passionate as mine, I shall include my receipt for you. It
was imparted to my mother by the daughter of Mr. George Tucker of Williamsburg
in 1804, and it is a staple to our table throughout the year.
Peel your peaches and put them in a stone pot—set the pot
into a vessel of water, and let it boil until a straw will pierce the
fruit—then make a syrup of the brandy and sugar—1Lb. of sugar to a quart of
brandy. Set in your peaches—They will be fit for use in a month. Brown sugar
will do very well. Better without peeling.
Well, I find my time for letter-writing at an end. The children
are being quite boisterous in the parlor, so I suspect they are fighting over
some trifle or exuberantly plotting some mischief led by James, who, at
present, ardently proclaims the sole desire to become an officer in the militia.
Of course, the soldier gathering only fortified his conviction--but must he
launch a new military campaign daily with his brother and sister in tow? In the
Colonel’s absence, I shall assume command of the troops and bid farewell.
Give my affections to your dear family. Write soon as I
promise to do the same.
Yours In Friendship,
P.S. I almost forgot to mention the successful completion of
our final Academy of the summer, so I shall include it here. It often saddens
me when one of the Academies ends knowing it will be many months until these
bright young minds cross our threshold again.
I do so look forward to when we shall meet again in the next year. Our
final session was completed just yesterday. The young women attending the
Secondary Academy of Learning were truly gracious and their exuberance to learn
a joy to behold. We have been truly blessed with the skills of our preceptresses
who direct the lessons. Mrs. Elizabeth Edwards taught each participant how to
make candle mats so as to preserve wooden surfaces…very useful indeed! Nothing
vexes me more than to find a water ring or candle wax on one of my tables. Of
course, I used the silk and millinery wire you sent to teach the girls how to
make a common straw hat, to which, each completed with great success. Miss
Kaylee McCoy shared her receipt on pickling and preserving green beans from the
garden. I believe this receipt has been in her family for some time and it
proved exceedingly good. Mrs. Amy Mullane brought cream and cider from her farm
so the ladies might enjoy a refreshing syllabub on their last day. It was a well-earned
treat since the cream required each young lady present to provide her strength
to whip the cream into a nice froth. The final product was very well received
after such a prolonged effort. Of course, we did not neglect the artistic
endeavors at the Academy. Miss Janice Camren provided two excellent lessons;
one discussing the useful creation of transparencies and the other how to craft
a lovely glass bead necklace. A most helpful lesson in quilting on a frame was
conducted by our local haberdasher, Mr. Mark Myers. I was struck by the number
of the girls who had never learned to quilt before this instruction. Do young girls
no longer need quilts for their hope chests? How very strange that seems to me!
Well, my dear friend, I must truly finish this missive or run the risk of
falling behind in my duties. Love to all!