Tales of the D.A.R.

October 27, 2016 at 12:56 pm (books, diaries, history, jasna, news) (, , , )

Although I have been to WASHINGTON DC several times over the decades, I had never entered the fabulous building that houses the Daughters of the American Revolution. WONDERFUL “period room” exhibits, and for the JASNA group an added incentive: the costume installation entitled, “An Agreeable Tyrant: Fashion after the Revolution“, which opened October 7 (2016) and runs until April 2017.

Ann Lewis fecit2

With the Jane Austen Society of North America’s Annual General Meeting (the JASNA AGM) having taken place this past weekend (21-23 October) in Washington DC – my own paper “Sketching Box Hill with Emma” being presented in the afternoon of the 22nd – there were a lot of costumes on parade in Washington. I don’t pretend to know much, but I have a stash of very useful books – for I would like to envision what my Emma and Mary would have worn. From a comment or two in the family correspondence, Mary (especially before she was widowed in 1831) was careful to look the part of a smart & stylish London Lady. The Gosling ladies had their step-mother’s shoes to step into: the Hon. Charlotte Gosling (née de Grey, related to the Barons Walsingham) was a serious society hostess in the 1810s. Every spring, during “the season” Mrs Gosling hosted routs, concerts, and parties. Her husband’s dinners are also found in the newspapers (yes, men gave ‘dinners’, but women gave other entertainments).

It still boggles MY mind that their parties could attract 300 to 600 people. How is that possible?? such a crowd in a small townhouse (No. 5 Portland Place, London).

But, to get back to the DAR.

JASNA members had morning “free”, and the DAR Museum was my one and only choice for a place to go. Thankfully, many other members had been already; for the most part I could look, read the brochure (one per room), and savor furnishings and costumes by myself. The room that stands out most is the one paneled in wood from the salvaged ship AUGUSTA. Jacobean in nature, with a lengthy table, the dark wood and colorful stained glass windows makes for a room that I’d happily spend time sitting in.

And the fact that the ship was called the AUGUSTA – the name of TWO of my ladies in the Smith family (Emma Austen’s mother and sister; never mind a slew of Augustas born in the 1820s and 1830s…).

But what really brought me to visit the DAR (free entry a big inducement) was the curator’s talk, which took place on the Thursday (the day I landed in DC) of last week.

I missed the first half of the talk, having to find the hotel, check-in, register for the conference, and get to the room – but was in time enough to hear the speaker Alden O’Brien toss off the intelligence that SHE WAS WORKING WITH A DIARY.

I pulled her aside at the end of her presentation to hear more, especially: Had she published it.

The answer to that burning question was ‘no’. The diarist – “Sylvia Lewis Tyler (1785-1851), an early nineteenth-century Everywoman, of Connecticut and Western Reserve Ohio” had left thirty years of diaries, and Alden didn’t believe ANY publisher would want that amount of material. Alden said the diary was akin to that which formed the basis of A Midwife’s Tale, the diaries by Martha Ballard [which is online at DoHistory; printed copies were also produced].

I truly do Hope She is Wrong. I can actually think of diaries that I’ve gotten copies of BECAUSE they were the “complete” set. But, in this day and age, it is a tough sell, to be sure.

Alden did say that she had published articles – and it was in looking that I found a her Common-Place post from 2011, all about her thoughts on SYLVIA’S DIARY.

Her comments, in the article, reminds me so much of a diary that I believe is being published in the spring 2017, concerning the diary of a Vermont woman that a friend (and former colleague) has been working on for over ten years. (More on that later.) Sylvia was a spinner and sewer. She lived in Bristol, Connecticut as a girl (her diaries begin at age 15), and textile & clothing is also an interest of mine – as far as production goes. I used to be a keen sewer and knitter; though I’ve never spun or weaved.

From the article: “I was taken aback when the archivist deposited nineteen manila folders before me, each containing a small, slim, hand-made volume.” Thirty years of Sylvia’s diaries. The title page (like that early diary of my Mary Gosling) claimed the diary in the name of SYLVIA LEWIS of BRISTOL.

Sylvia’s diary runs from 1801 (when she was 15 years old) to 1831 (aged 46); two years are missing and a couple of gaps exist. Alden even targeted another Bristol girl’s diary, belonging to an acquaintance! Thus are “projects” born…

Alden asks her readers, “Why did I leap into this project—and why did I stick to it?” Nearly ten years into my own project on Two Teens in the Time of Austen (Mary Gosling and Emma Smith, who – as sisters-in-law, both become related to Jane Austen’s nephew James Edward Austen Leigh), I couldn’t wait to see what she said in reply!

  • an abiding fondness for the area (ie, Bristol & environs) and interest in its local history
  • Sylvia’s “records are richly informative” as regards social history
  • “Most of all, Sylvia herself drew me in.”

“Once I knew the cast of characters in the diary, the entries created a narrative, and I kept wanting to know what happens next.”

Amen, Sister!

I can say yes-yes-YES to the three points above, as regards Mary, Emma, and their (extensive) families and the English history and daily “mundane chronicles” they all have left behind.

An aside: a letter I just transcribed last night, written by Sir Charles Joshua Smith (bart.) [1800-1831], Emma’s eldest brother and Mary’s eventual husband, had this FABULOUS sentence that just called out to me:

“it is very flattering to one’s vanity to feel that there is some one who cares whether one is alive or dead”

If Charles could know how MUCH _I_ care about them all… his vanity would be HIGHLY flattered. And Sylvia Lewis Tyler must feel that same if she could know the loving care and attention her biographer Alden O’Brien is taking over bringing her own “herstory” to light.

I invite you to read Alden’s own words, and to savor 19th century Bristol, Connecticut by checking out this tale from the vault of the DAR. And should you be in the area of Washington DC, stop by – Alden O’Brien might be there!sylvia-lewis

The finding of Sylvia’s grave makes for truly SPOOKY reading! Enjoy…

also: Bringing Sylvia Lewis back to Life

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