Thursday, October 7, 2021

Letters from Lucy Stephenson, July 24, 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 24, 1821

Edwardsville, Illinois



Dearest Mary,

     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.

     Please include 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,

Lucy Stephenson

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!

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