Concluding text adapted from “Decorative Arts in the Lower Shenandoah Valley” by Warren F. Hofstra and “Introduction” by Theodora Rezba from the Valley Pioneers and Those Who Continue catalogue, as well as “West of the Blue Ridge” promotional materials.
The social world of the Shenandoah Valley in the eighteenth century was something of an anomaly in Virginia. As we saw in the introduction to “West of the Blue Ridge,” German, Scotch-Irish, Dutch, Welsh, as well as English settlers came here, each bringing their own cultural heritage. The Lower Shenandoah Valley — present day counties of Frederick, Clarke, Warren, Shenandoah, and Page in Virginia, Berkeley and Jefferson in West Virginia, and Washington in Maryland — developed a unique artistic heritage through the interplay of these cultures.
During the colonial period, local merchants kept a steady flow of goods streaming into the Valley from Philadelphia, giving the material culture a Pennsylvania slant. Artisans furthered this work, as many of them had received their training in Pennsylvania. Thus by the end of the eighteenth century much of the Lower Valley could boast of a highly pluralistic culture and an integrated goods and services economy generating a large volume of useful and decorative items reflecting the varied heritages. The distinctive Valley decorative art styles were forged in this vibrant atmosphere.
The next century told a different story as settlement fanned out far beyond the old Appalachian frontier. When Isaac Weld traveled Valley roads in 1796, he met “great numbers of people” searching “for lands conveniently situated for new settlements in the western country.” The quest for cheaper, larger quantities of land in less populated areas lured many local residents over the Appalachians.
When the National Road opened in 1818 to the northwest and then the mainline of the B&O railroad bypassed Winchester in 1827, migrants bypassed the Valley in their movement west. Wheat, at least for the decades before the American Civil War, remained a source of prosperity for Valley farmers, but the Valley had been bypassed as the commercial and cultural gateway west.
As with any museum exhibit, numerous people were involved in the creation of “West of the Blue Ridge.” However, as much time has elapsed since the exhibits were held, we may not be able to credit every person who worked on them thirty years ago. Kym S. Rice was the main exhibit curator, assisted by Dave and Jenny Powers, curators of the children’s exhibit. Theodora Rezba served as the Project Director, with other committee members consisting of Linden Fravel, Susan Galbraith, Mary Gardiner, Michael Gore, Ann Grogg, Warren Hofstra, Bobbi Jackson, Barbara Laidlaw, Teresa Lazazzera, Peggy McKee, Theresa Merkel, Dorothy Overcash, Eloise Strader, Anna Thomson, Sybil White, Joe Whitehorne, Gary VanMeter, and Patricia Zontine. Credited text contributors from outside the committee include H. E. Comstock, Virginia Miller, Timothy Hodges, Linda Crocker Simmons, Mary Bruce Glaize, and Tina Raburn.
The exhibit was made possible with contributions from the Virginia Foundation of the Humanities and Public Policy, the Hon. Harry F. Byrd, Jr., Nancy Larrick Crosby, the Durell Foundation, Elizabeth Engle, Dr. & Mrs. Hunter Gaunt, Michael Gore, Dr. & Mrs. Douglass O. Hill, Dr. & Mrs. Thomas Keenan, Dr. & Mrs. B. Franklin Lewis, Dorothy Overcash, Dr. & Mrs. David Powers, Dr. and Mrs. Benjamin Rezba, Thomas Scully, Eloise Strader, Dr. & Mrs. Larry Tolley, and Dr. & Mrs. David Zontine.
Thank you for joining us on this retrospective on “West of the Blue Ridge.” If you havean idea for a future multi-installment blog series, please drop us a note on social media or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information for this installment is derived from H.E. Comstock’s introduction to Furniture in “Valley Pioneer Artists and Those Who Continue” and the “West of the Blue Ridge” exhibit texts.
The Shenandoah Valley was isolated from most commercial sites in its early history. Valley residents of more abundant means brought furniture from larger cities such as Alexandria, Baltimore, and Philadelphia prior to 1785. The early furniture styles of more modest residents reflect indigenous as well as outside influences.
Valley furniture presents definite influences of the English, German, Scotch-Irish, and Swiss immigration to the area. The forms show a spectrum of accents from fairly sophisticated carved pediments and ball and claw feet to elaborate wood or sulphur inlays. Fluted and stop-fluted quarter columns are commonly found, as well as furniture that is considered folk art due to its unique construction and decoration. The molding styles of local furniture is often replicated in the architectural moldings of Valley homes.
As is common in other areas, there are also many primitive or plain objects to be found. The painted dower chests of Shenandoah and Page counties in Virginia and close by Maryland counties are highly sought by collectors and museums nationwide. The elusive nature of the objects ranks them among the most desirable folk art furniture in America. Their primitive, naive, painted motifs render them the epitome of American folk art.
Primary woods for furniture construction, in order of occurrence, were pine, walnut, cherry, poplar, chestnut, and maple. It was not until the very late eighteenth century that mahogany began to be imported for furniture use. Secondary woods used, in order of occurrence, were pine, poplar, walnut, chestnut, and oak.
While the furniture of the Valley is often stylistically similar to other areas, it does occasionally exhibit evidences of local individuality. Distinguishing features included arced stop-fluting of the quarter columns, and precisely and elaborately carved capitals of quarter columns. Case pieces show well-executed carvings of shells and foliage on their pediments. These case pieces often exhibit so-called dust boards between drawers. Often a piece exhibits the bottom boards of drawers arranged from front to back. The back-boards of case pieces are sometimes arranged from side to side. Similar arrangements of these boards are commonly found in English furniture.
In the past it has been considerably difficult to make definitive attributions concerning the products of Shenandoah Valley cabinetmakers. The loss of records in courthouse fires and the fact that very few craftsmen signed their work makes such attribution less than easy. Our best evidence comes through repetitive occurrences of furniture styles and consistent craftsmanship, sometimes aided by impeccable family histories and various documentation.
As in other early American communities, many of the local cabinetmakers were either itinerant or short-lived business enterprises. Among craftsmen known are David Campbell, Joseph Culbertson, Patrick Curry, Christopher Frye, J.S. Hendricks, John Kerr, William King, George Keyes, James L. Martin, Joshua Newbrough, George Newsom, John Shearer, and Edward Slaytor.
Johannes Spitler is perhaps the greatest example of decorative arts married to furniture originating in the Shenandoah Valley. It is not known if Spitler was responsible for his own casework, although some evidence suggests that possibility. Spitler’s painted designs of geometric patterns and compass work are usually found in the colors of red, yellow, white, blue, and black. He usually sealed the pores of the casewood and created a painting ground by applying an orange-red primer. Spitler’s decorations exist in a number of variations; a sizeable collection of his work has been found and pieces can be viewed online at the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts and the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley.
The “folksy” carvings, inlay patterns, and mixture of period designs on the same piece have always been one hallmark of local furniture. The citizens of the area have always been blessed by their geographical location. Of their many other blessings, one is the wonderful heritage of Shenandoah Valley furniture.
Text from this installment has been adapted from “Textiles” by Tina Rabun and Theodora Rezba in the “Valley Pioneers and Those Who Continue” catalogue, and the “West of the Blue Ridge” promotional newspaper clipping collection and exhibit texts.
Prior to the Revolutionary War, many of the textile products used in the Colonies were imported from Britain. In the 1700s, the Industrial Revolution was transforming previously laborious hand-processes and increasing production speeds, so that British goods were relatively inexpensive and in steady supply. It was not until the Revolutionary War severed the supply that it became a patriotic duty to spin, dye, and weave textiles. (1)
One well-known example locally of imported textiles is that of Lord Fairfax (1693-1781) during his time in Greenway Court. Andrew Burnaby observed of Lord Fairfax: “His dress corresponded with his mode of life, and, notwithstanding, he had every year new suits of clothes, of the most fashionable and expensive kind, sent out to him from England, which he never put on, was plain in the extreme.” This formal jacket probably was among those Fairfax imported from England.
Locally-produced textiles exhibited in the “Valley Pioneers and Those Who Continue” show varied from a c. 1800 baby’s cap in cambric to sheets and pillow sham of flax c. 1870. Wool and cotton, however, provided the bulk of the material base for textile work. One of the county’s early woolen mills was located on the Opequon, and wool production remained a staple of Winchester’s employment until the closure of the Virginia Woolen Mill in 1958.
Handspun wool, not being very strong, was difficult to use as a warp; therefore not many blankets of all wool were woven until yarns could be spun commercially with the invention of the spinning jenny. Cotton was grown in Virginia prior to the Revolutionary War for domestic use, and many of the early surviving blankets use cotton threads for the warp. Flax, too, was grown in small quantities for personal use both for weaving linen and for producing linseed oil.
Almost every family in the Valley possessed a four-harness loom either brought from Europe or fashioned in America of hand-hewn logs. Both men and women did the weaving and the children were taught to card and spin the flax, cotton, and wool. Perhaps the most plentiful example of home weaving can be found in the family bedding. Three types of woven coverlets that were in common use in the Valley were the overshot, the double weave, and the jacquard.
The overshot coverlet dates from the early settlement period and could be woven on a simple four-harness loom requiring minimal skills. In this weave, the weft threads usually form the pattern and “overshoot” the warp threads, forming floats across the background weave. The double weave style (1725-1825) is constructed so that two warps are joined so that the reverse side of the coverlet is a mirror image of the front. Thus the front would show a dark design on a light ground, while the back shows a light design on a dark ground. The jacquard coverlet required a specialized loom invented by a French weaver, Joseph Jacquard. The complicated mechanism that activated the harnesses allowed for the creation of intricate patterns like brocade and damask. The loom required two people to operate and made coverlet weaving a profession after the 1830s. Many of the professional weavers also offered dyeing services.
Quilts, the other major form of bedding, were largely made by women. The quilts themselves reflect the history of textile production in America, including home-woven cloth, souvenir fabric to memorialize important events, stitching techniques, patterns, and symbolic motifs important to the makers. Quilts are often a communal effort as well, and numerous signatures on one quilt can document the makers who lent their talents to the finished piece. Whole-cloth quilts of wool were produced from the late 1700s to early 1800s, but the familiar image of a quilt is likely that of multicolor pieced cotton. Early patterns were often simple geometric designs in rectangles, squares, and triangles. More elaborate designs could have been traced from newspaper or magazine patterns. The exact quilts displayed at the Kurtz Cultural Center in conjunction with Belle Grove Plantation were not well-documented, except for the “Spring Dreams” quilt, used as a raffle item. An Amish-made queen sized quilt, it features a white background decorated with circles and sprigs of flowers and vines in pastel pink, yellow, blue, and green. For more examples of American quilts, visit the National Quilt Collection at the National Museum of American History.
For a quilt made in Winchester by Amelia Lauck, wife of Peter Lauck (both previously discussed in the Portraiture entry), see the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts for a ca. 1823 quilt of cotton with appliques of flowers and birds.
While the bedding served daily needs, needlework could be used for education as well. The best example is that of a sampler. Known in Europe as early at the 16th century, the sampler reached its height of popularity in the 18th. Intended as a practical record of stitching patterns that could be added to and referred back to throughout a woman’s lifetime, it also came to serve a secondary use. Young girls were taught how to embroider at an early age, so their samplers were also used to practice letters, numbers, and more fanciful artistic expressions. A typical American sampler will contain various alphabetical forms, numerals, ornaments, and decorative borders. The stitcher may have included her name, the date, her school, figures like houses, pets, mottoes, and other personalized touches.
While the sampler was a relatively utilitarian piece that could be used as a reference guide, for some women the skills learned in stitching a sampler led to higher artistic expression. To explore the variety of needlework produced in early American history, you may wish to further explore the holdings of the Museum of Early South Decorative Arts and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Join us next time for a look at furniture in the Valley on May 20.
The text for this installment is adapted from “Fine Art and Fraktur” by Linda Crocker Simmons in the “Valley Pioneer Artists and Those Who Continue” exhibit catalog, with information from the “West of the Blue Ridge” exhibit. Most images of the portraits displayed at the “West of the Blue Ridge” exhibit are from digitized slides attributed to Elaine Rebman.
Painting in the United States in this period underwent dramatic developments and changes in styles. Although the Lower Valley was not a center for innovation, the painters active here often reflected the changes that had occurred in New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, or Boston, albeit a few decades later. Patronage determined much of what an artist painted, and in the Valley the demand for portraits was constant, followed in lesser degrees by landscapes, still-lifes, and genre scenes of everyday life.
A diversity of media was usual throughout this hundred-year period. Miniatures were much more common than is recognized. In the decades before the 1840s when photography was introduced, they were the preferred form for small, easily transported portraits. It is likely that many more miniatures were created than are known or have survived. In addition to having a miniature portrait painted in watercolor on ivory, Valley sitters could also commission their portrait in chalk, watercolor, or ink on paper.
In the Valley, as elsewhere, one of the easiest methods of locating a painter was through newspaper advertisements. The two earliest names uncovered are William Dering and L. M. Christophe. Others discovered through similar searches are Charles Peale Polk, Joshua Johnson, Frederick Kemmelmeyer, John Drinker, and [William Joseph] Aldridge. This group was likely the most influential on painters in this region during the “golden age” of folk painting. A significant level of activity was sustained from the 1790s through the 1820s by these itinerants seeking portrait commissions in the Lower Shenandoah Valley.
Orphaned as a small child, Charles Peale Polk (1767 – 1822) was raised in Philadelphia by his uncle, Charles Peale, who taught him to paint. In 1791 Polk moved with his wife and children from Philadelphia to Baltimore where he worked as a portrait painter and merchant. He left in 1796 for Frederick Co., Maryland, then traveled from there as an itinerant painter through western Maryland and Virginia. After the election of Thomas Jefferson, Polk, a political supporter, moved to Washington DC where he received an appointment as clerk, a position he held for 16 years. In 1820 after his third marriage, the family moved to a farm in Richmond Co., Va. where they resided until Polk’s death in 1822.
Jacob Frymire (1765 – 1822) was a portrait and miniature painter. Little is known of his training, but by 1791 he was active in New Jersey and Maryland painting portraits. From 1794-1807 he traveled in the South, especially Virginia and Kentucky. From 1817 until his death, he maintained residences first in Shippensburg, Pa. and later in Hamilton Township, Pa.
In the early 1800s, John Drinker (1760-1826) and Joshua Johnston (1763-1832) began working in Berkeley and Jefferson counties. Johnston is the earliest identified African-American painter in the United States. He has been linked to the Peale family – if not as master and student, at least through familiarity with and similarity of techniques. The only signed painting by him is of Sarah Ogden Gustin, painted in Berkeley Springs about 1800, and in it can be seen Johnston’s typical pallid complexion and linear treatment of details. Drinker was the only one of these early painters to settle in the region. He lived with his wife in Berkeley County until his death in 1826. Valley residents who sat for him included Dr. and Mrs. John Briscoe of Piedmont, Mr. and Mrs. George Steptoe Washington of Harewood, and Mr. and Mrs. Gabriel Jones.
The Lauck family of Winchester became patrons of Frymire and Polk in 1799 when Peter Lauck, Revolutionary soldier and owner of the Red Lion Tavern, was painted by Polk. Peter’s wife, Amelia Heiskell Lauck, was painted two years later by Frymire. It is likely that Frymire knew the Polk portrait of Peter Lauck when he painted Amelia. The effect of Polk’s style on Frymire’s is clear in the loose brushstroke seen in Mrs. Lauck’s shawl and the heightened attention focused on her facial features. Amelia Lauck’s portrait by Frymire is one of his finest works as well as an example of the interchanges of influence between these painters.
As the second half of the nineteenth century approached, tastes began to move away from portraiture. Landscape images depicting the beauty of the Valley’s mountains, rivers, sky, and settlements became more common, along with genre scenes of everyday life. The Civil War seems to have drawn this local age of portrait folk painting to a close. If you would like to further explore works of some painters named in this brief exploration, we recommend visiting the online collection of the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts.
Join us on April 15 for our next installment on textiles and samplers!
Adapted from “Introduction to Metals” by Virginia L. Miller in the “Valley Pioneer Artists and Those Who Continue” exhibit catalogue.
Of the various tradesmen drawn to the Shenandoah Valley, the blacksmiths, tinsmiths, coppersmiths, and ironworkers were vital. Items encompassing daily needs to high-end luxury items were produced by these artisans. In many cases, the metalworkers collaborated closely with other craftsmen to create finished products like pie safes and clocks. By the late 1780s, the Lower Shenandoah Valley had approximately four silversmiths and one or two clockmakers. By 1830 this number had increased appreciably and metalworkers expanded into jewelry, a reflection of the growing affluence of the area.
Apparently the earliest workers to arrive were the tinsmiths and coppersmiths, who made household utensils, pots, and kettles to order. Tinsmiths do the majority of their work on cold metal through cutting, shaping, punching, and soldering pieces. Local smiths John Nulton, George Reed, and John Richardson all had copper teakettles exhibited during “Valley Pioneer Artists and Those Who Continue.” Other known smiths of the area are Joseph Harry, Abraham Nulton, and William Grim. The Nulton family in particular continued as tin and coppersmiths in Winchester well past the Civil War.
Cooking utensils and stoves were not the only household goods commonly produced, repaired, or sold by tinsmiths. The pie safe or food safe was another essential household piece in the era before refrigeration. These pieces, made in conjunction with a cabinetworker, generally feature a freestanding wooden frame on legs to elevate the bottom shelf from the floor. Characteristically, there are two hinged doors containing tin panels that allow access to interior shelves, and usually two small drawers above. The panels are ventilated with punchwork to allow heat to escape, but the overall design is intended to prevent pests from accessing the perishable foodstuffs or other valuables stored inside. Punchwork is European in origin and is created by punching the inside of the tin with a round-ended chisel. According to the 2014 MSV exhibit “Safes of the Valley,” the punched tin panels found in food safes often featured animals, including birds, leaping stags, roosters, and horses in Winchester and Frederick County. A Facebook page is still actively documenting new safe finds by the exhibit curators.
Blacksmiths, on the other hand, work their metal (generally iron) in heat to cast, shape, and forge agricultural implements, tools, hardware, utensils, and other items. To make cast iron pieces, first the iron was melted in the furnace, then the molten iron was taken from the bottom of the furnace and cast into sand molds on the furnace floor. Pots, firebacks, stove plates, weights, and other small objects were cast, as well as irregular bars called pigs. These lumps of cast iron were sold to blacksmiths or small forges. Pigs were later reheated and forged by a huge hammer, usually driven by a water-powered wheel, into wrought iron. This process greatly increased the strength and malleability of the iron.
Lewis Stephens started an ironworks as early as 1760 about twelve miles from Winchester with three Pennsylvanian partners: John Hughes, Samuel Potts, and John Pottiac. Pennsylvania Quaker Isaac Zane, Jr. began his career as ironmaster at the age of 24 by purchasing a share in this blast furnace, and by 1768 he became the sole owner. This ironworks, known as Marlboro Furnace, was one of the largest and most prosperous ironworks in the area.
A bar of pig iron found locally almost undoubtedly came from the Marlboro Furnace. In addition to “pigs,” the Marlboro Furnace also manufactured cast iron stove plates, firebacks, andirons, and other small items. During the American Revolution, it was a major contributor of cannons and ammunition to General Washington’s army. Zane died in 1795, and the ironworks was shuttered in 1828. Even the hamlet that sprung up around the furnace has largely faded away, leaving as its legacy numerous household castings that reflect Zane’s sophistication and refined taste.
Two other types of metalworking of a more luxurious nature also appeared early in the Shenandoah Valley – silversmiths and clockmakers. These professions seemed to go hand in hand, and often included jewelry in their repertoires. The coin silver, or early American silver made from melted-down coins, that was produced in the Valley was predominantly flatware: teaspoons, tablespoons, sugar tongs, and ladles. Fewer pieces of hollowware such as salts, beakers, sugar bowls, cream pitchers, and teapots were made, probably because they required more silver and thus were more expensive.
William Phillips was working in Winchester in the early 1800s. Originally trained as a silver bucklemaker in England, he came to America as an indentured servant. After a brief period of work in Middletown, he found his permanent home in Winchester. Proclaiming himself as a watchmaker, silversmith, and jeweler, he advertised his services in partnership with Daniel Hartman in 1802. The partnership of William Phillips and John Foster began in 1817. Silver tongs (1802-1814) and a toddy ladle (1817-1820) are some surviving examples of coin silver produced locally by Phillips.
Middletown was known as a center for clockmaking as early as 1766, starting with wooden gears before moving on to brass and finally elaborate eight-day clocks. Jacob Danner of Middletown, who was a also a surveyor, created both clocks and mathematically-precise surveying equipment. An example of his work, a surveyor’s compass invented by Samuel Kern and executed by Danner, is part of the National Museum of American History.
The son of a Quaker clockmaker, Goldsmith Chandlee (1751-1821) moved to the Lower Valley about 1775. From his shop in Winchester he made clocks, surveyor and surgical instruments, compasses, sundials, telescopes, and other items. By the time craftsmen began to locate in the Lower Valley, lead was being used infrequently; however, Chandlee used it to great advantage when making sundials (c. 1800). Brass was also used by Chandlee when he made surveyors’ instruments and scales as well as sundials and the trimming on clock faces.
Perhaps one item most out of reach for the average household was that of a large case clock. The Valley had several clockmakers talented in the production of said pieces, combining woodworking, clockmaking, and even reverse glass painting skills to create a finished product. Some of the most beautiful local examples were created by Caleb Davis. A Woodstock clockmaker, watchmaker, jeweler, and artist who worked briefly in partnership with Jacob Fry between 1796-1800, Caleb Davis clocks are distinguished by their scenic painted lunettes. This example is one of six Davis clocks known with the painted lunette. The fluted quarter-columns are characteristic of Woodstock clock cases.
Join us next time on March 18 for a look at portraiture in the Valley!
This installment is adapted primarily from “Pottery” by H.E. Comstock in the “Valley Pioneers and Those Who Continue” exhibit catalogue.Most scholarship on Valley pottery stems from Comstock’s work, which can be found in the “Encyclopedia of American Folk Art” edited by Gerard C. Wertkin, as well as “The Pottery of the Shenandoah Valley Region.”
Potters began migrating to the Shenandoah Valley as early as the 1760s. The constantly increasing population of an agrarian society and their subsequent need for food preservation made pottery production a prime industry. The abundance of native clays, clear and workable in their natural state, facilitated the growth of the industry. Between the years of 1760 and 1900, more than two hundred potters were associated with Valley pottery production.
With few exceptions, two types of pottery were produced in the Shenandoah Valley: earthenware and stoneware. Earthenware, which can be distinguished by its maroon-brown color and brittle nature from its low firing temperatures, was abundantly produced in the earlier years. Earthenware is naturally porous, so pieces were glazed with lead oxide to provide waterproofing. The lead glazes typically produced colors of green and brown through the addition of copper, manganese, and iron. Nearly every type of pottery that was made in the Valley was produced in earthenware at some point.
Stoneware, a harder and denser pottery with a greyish pebbled surface, was produced throughout the Valley, especially after 1840. Stoneware is nonporous and more resistant to breakage due to the clay being fired at higher temperatures, leading to stone-like qualities. The salt glaze commonly found on stoneware was produced by throwing table salt into the very hot kiln. Salt glaze can range from clear through brown, blue, or even purple, resulting in a finish similar to an orange peel. For the most part stoneware exists as crocks, jugs, pitchers, canning jars, pans, bottles, cuspidors, and chambers.
John George Weis is considered one of the first and most influential potters to settle in the Shenandoah Valley. Much like firearms of the frontier developing artisans of renown and schools of production, Weis is considered the founder of the “Hagerstown School” of pottery. More history and background information on other early potters in the Valley can be found at Shenandoah Pottery, but two families in particular were the focus of the artifacts on exhibit at the Kurtz Cultural Center.
By the end of the eighteenth century at least three potters worked in Newtown (Stephens City) making utilitarian redware or earthenware, mostly for the local market. It is believed Anthony Pitman knew Weis or was exposed to his pottery techniques in Germany and subsequently brought the Hagerstown school of pottery to Newtown (Life of a Potter, Andrew Pitman, p. 16). Andrew and John Pitman, Anthony’s sons, are believed to have learned their trade from their father.
“The commonest cups and saucers sold then for one dollar per set, and a great many persons used the earthen ware porringers and mugs manufactured at Newtown.” — William Greenway Russell
The Bell family of potters, known not only locally but nationwide, are more responsible for the renown of the Valley’s pottery tradition than any other group. This family started its pottery production in the late 1700s with the work of Peter Bell in Hagerstown, Maryland. Bell’s three sons, John, Samuel, and Solomon, worked in Hagerstown, Winchester, and Strasburg, as well as locations in Pennsylvania.
John Bell (1800-1880) worked with his father, Peter, until 1824, when Peter moved to Winchester. John rented his father’s old shop in Hagerstown for himself for a year, then he moved to Winchester and worked with his father for three years. Thereafter, he moved to Chambersburg, Pa., where potter Jacob Heart provided him experience with English ceramic-molding techniques. He was one of the first American potters to use tin in his glazes, drawing from the pottery of Delft, Holland. The outstanding quality of his work rates him at the very top of American potters of this period, owing to his combination of German and English techniques to form a uniquely Valley form. John Bell may be the most widely known of the Bell family potters, especially for his ornamental pottery like the whimsical lion in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Samuel Bell (1811-1890) learned his craft from his father in Winchester. He moved to Strasburg in 1842, and around 1845, he acquired the old Miller Pottery from his father-in-law. Stylistically, his work is similar to his father’s, along with adapting the techniques and forms used by his brother John. His clientele and his production methods compelled him to produce mostly utilitarian ware, yet his accomplishments as a potter were excellent, particularly in his brushwork. Marked pottery from Samuel’s Winchester era is considered some of the finest and most sought-after pieces of Shenandoah Valley pottery.
Solomon Bell (1817-1882) also learned his craft in Winchester with his father and brother Samuel. He occasionally worked with his brother John in Chambersburg before joining his brother Samuel in Strasburg around 1844 in their family pottery business. He was responsible for the first molded ware produced in Strasburg and produced colored pieces that were distinctive enough to inspire the moniker “Strasburg Glaze.” His version of the figural lion, a repeated form for the Bell family, is believed to be the first produced and is speculated by Comstock to have drawn upon the signage for the Red Lion Tavern in Winchester, located a few blocks from the Winchester Bell Pottery location.
Pottery was always a necessary household commodity, and production remained strong until the Civil War. Although interrupted for a time by the conflict, production resumed again during the Reconstruction era and beyond. This period of pottery was dominated by the Bell family. The dynasty continued production as late as the 1930s through descendants of Samuel Bell. The Strasburg glaze formulas were recorded in a small black book, carefully guarded by the family to preserve the family glaze formulas. Gene Comstock related in a 1995 interview that the recipe book was still carefully guarded as late as 1976 even for direct Bell family descendants seeking the information for historical research.
Join us next time on February 18 to explore metalworking in the Valley!
Adapted from “Longrifles” by Timothy A. Hodges from the “Valley Pioneer Artists and Those Who Continue” exhibit catalogue and the “West of the Blue Ridge” text panels.
Life on the frontier spurred on the innovation and advancements necessary to create an accurate, economic, and efficient weapon different from those habitually used by the immigrants. German settlers brought a short, heavy rifle that had deep rifling grooves and a large bore. Though accurate, this “Jaeger” rifle was slow and difficult to load and required large amounts of scarce lead and gunpowder. The English, Scotch-Irish, and French immigrants brought a long, graceful fowling piece. Though light in weight and quick to load, the absence of rifling in the barrel severely limited its accuracy and range. It could be loaded with shot or, like the smooth-bore military musket, with a single lead ball; both consumed large amounts of lead and gunpowder.
Frontiersmen needed a lightweight, accurate firearm which was quick and easy to load and consumed small amounts of gunpowder and lead. By combining the desirable qualities of the jaeger and fowler with new innovations, the gunsmiths satisfied these needs. Reducing the depth of rifling grooves and using a greased patch around the ball made loading quick and easy without compromising accuracy. Reducing the size of the bore saved lead and gunpowder. Lengthening the barrel increased its range and gave it a graceful appearance.
The term “Kentucky rifle” is used to describe the American rifle developed in the eighteenth century by gunsmiths working on the Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and Carolina frontier. It served colonial settlers for protection, procuring food, and was used as a military weapon in the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, and the War of 1812.
By the 1750s, the American longrifle had evolved to the point where few mechanical improvements could be made. The number of gunsmiths increased greatly during the Revolutionary War. Gunsmiths took on extra apprentices and journeymen and allied tradesmen reverted to gunsmithing to meet the demand. After the Revolution, however, the demand decreased. A more effective rifle could not be made, and so smiths turned their skills decorative enhancements.
The post-Revolutionary War period to the 1820s was the “Golden Age” of riflemaking. The gunsmiths focused attention on decorating their rifles in the American rococo style. Regional design characteristics became more prevalent during this period with identifiable schools and patterns of influence.
“[Winchester] is the place of general rendezvous of the Virginian troops, which is the reason of its late rapid increase , and present flourishing condition.” – Andrew Burnaby, 1775
Frederick County nurtured many gunsmiths because Winchester was the headquarters for militia activity during the French and Indian War. Winchester could boast of Adam Haymaker and Simon Lauck, two skilled craftsmen who trained apprentices who later worked in the Valley making fine guns. The “Winchester School” of rifle was carried west through Hampshire County and south through the Valley during the golden age of the Kentucky rifle.
Adam Haymaker is considered the “Father of the Winchester School” of rifles. He was working prior to the French and Indian War, and continued until his death in 1806. In addition to his son John, many other apprentices of Adam Haymaker helped spread his techniques and decorative details. His home and shop were located at 213 South Cameron Street.
Simon Lauck left Winchester with Daniel Morgan’s Riflemen in 1775, at the age of fifteen. He returned to Winchester in 1794, after a time as a gunsmith in Lebanon Township, PA. The log house at 311 South Loudoun Street was probably his primary residence. His rifles are stylistically similar to Adam Haymaker’s, but it is uncertain what association they may have had. Through the many apprentices he trained, Lauck transmitted the decorative elements characteristic of his style, including the four-petal flower patchbox and silver inlay acorn motifs. His apprentices include his sons Simon Jr., John, Jacob, and William, as well as Jacob Funk of Strasburg.
By 1830, a rapidly expanding population, westward migration, and the beginning of the industrial era brought the golden age to an end. The demand for rifles could only be met by factories which had little concern for art.
Join us next time on January 21 to explore early pottery in the Shenandoah Valley!
The music selection for this installment is “Chester.”
“The commerce of Winchester is carried on with great activity and success with the people of the back countries, who resort here for salt, and a supply of commodities which are manufactured in this town, and give in exchange the produce of their lands, the fruits of their industry and of the chace, consisting chiefly of grains, flax, and hemp, of coarse linens and skins.”— Charles Varle, 1809
Between 1785 and 1815 life in the Lower Shenandoah Valley grew considerably less insular. Along Valley roads new ideas moved along with people and goods. The diverse population created a class system that was possibly less rigid than elsewhere in Virginia. Even as language, religious and cultural beliefs helped to maintain ethnic identity, evidence indicates that assimilation occurred among various groups in this period.
Historian Warren Hofstra identified three integrated areas of commerce the accelerated the growth of Winchester: the migrant, the backcountry, and the market town trade. People traveling south and west along the Valley’s Great Wagon Road stopped in Winchester for provisions. The city became a supply center for backcountry peddlers and merchants and functioned as a wholesale market for Kentucky retailers. At the same time local merchants maintained strong ties with Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Alexandria where they acquired merchandise.
Livestock functioned as both a source of transportation and income for the Valley. Kercheval recalls “Stage coaches travel all our turnpike roads, drawn by the most splendid horses; and most of our substantial farmers rear the finest cattle, sheep, and hogs . . . . Our valley furnishes the several markets with vast quantities of superior beef, pork, mutton, butter, and the finest of breadstuffs.” Cattle, both locally-raised and those shipped to Winchester from western Virginia and Kentucky, were delivered to markets in Philadelphia, Alexandria, Richmond, and Baltimore.
Until the advent of the railroad, wagon drovers and teamsters created the country’s most effective system of commercial transportation. Carrying loads of several tons, wagons rarely traveled more than twenty-five miles per day. A heavy freight wagon pulled by a four to six horse team and sometimes canvas-covered to protect their cargo, Conestogas were used for hauling goods and supplies throughout the Valley and into Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and west through the Cumberland Gap. Roads were narrow and wagon bells, worn by the horses closest to the wagon, announced the arrival of a wagon and team. (1)
Ferdinand Bayard reported in 1791, “Famous four-wheeled wagons are already being built in Winchester.” Stephensburg or Newtown (Stephens City) soon eclipsed Winchester as a wagon-making center. Newtown wagon makers built a unique form of the Conestoga wagon to carry goods over rough roads and dangerous terrain. For a small town, around a dozen wagon-making establishments were in business there in the early and mid-19th century. In addition, numerous other related trades like saddlers, harness makers, wheelwrights, and blacksmiths contributed to the growth of the town through transportation-related industries.(2)
The late 18th-century consumer revolution offered greater selections to ordinary people in the marketplace. Local artisans and small manufacturers produced an astonishing range of goods for sale in the town’s shops. Account books provide a glimpse of the trade happening in the town. Beatty Carson, mayor of Winchester in 1808 and 1810, employed fifteen to twenty people in his small boot and shoe factory. Godfrey Miller, a stocking weaver by trade, expanded his business into dry goods and apothecary supplies, providing the raw materials for other local artisans like Andrew Pitman, a potter in Stephensburg. Other merchants, like John Conrad, made purchases in Baltimore, Alexandria, Philadelphia, and bought goods from local sources for resale to other merchants and townspeople. Residents such as James Wood, Jr., one of Winchester’s more prominent citizens, ordered goods directly from artisans and storekeepers in the larger East Coast cities. Philadelphia silversmith, Joseph Richardson, made this pair of beakers, now in the collection of the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley.
“The Chancery District west of the Blue Ridge embraces a territory of several hundred miles, from east to west and of greater extent from north to south; including a population equal to one third of the entire population of the State-The rugged and mountainous face of the Country presenting obstacles to easy and rapid intercourse….The people wealthy, enterprising and trading…” –Petition to the Virginia Legislature, December 3, 1811
When Isaac Weld traveled Valley roads in 1796 he met “great numbers of people” searching “for lands conveniently situated for new settlements in the western country.” The quest for cheaper, larger quantities of land in less populated areas lured many local residents over the Appalachians. In the 1790s the new state of Kentucky was dominated by former Virginians. Although the Valley remained a significant source for the nation’s wheat until after the Civil War, the opening of the National Road to the northwest in 1818, which bypassed Winchester, delivered a severe blow to the Valley’s commercial dominance.
Join us next time on December 17 to examine the firearms of the frontier!
In 1729-1730, Jacob Stover petitioned to create a 13th colony from the Virginia interior and bring Swiss-German farmers as settlers. This was a departure from the pattern of settlement in the east of Virginia, where grants were typically made to the wealthy English. The petition to the Colonial government struck at a fateful time. The Shenandoah Valley had been a place of escape for slaves fleeing a James River plantation in 1727. Although they were captured, the idea of the Valley becoming a haven for escapees had been planted in Virginia Governor William Gooch’s mind. This petition offered a way to settle the land and simultaneously not endanger the English elites.
Gooch denied the petition for the new colony, but approved immigrant farmers settling the Valley. The grants were to be made to “persons of low degree in life who are known amongst their equals as morally honest.” The stipulation was to have one family for every 1,000 acres. Attracted by the prospects of inexpensive and rich farmland, successive waves of Scotch-Irish and German immigrants settled in the valley.
“The necessary labors of the farms along the frontiers were performed with every danger and difficulty imaginable. The whole population of the frontiers, huddled together in their little forts, left the country with every appearance of a deserted region; and such would have been the opinion of a traveler concerning it, if he had not seen here and there some small fields of corn or other grain in a growing state.” — Samuel Kercheval, 1850
At first farmers in Old Frederick County raised crops and animals mostly for their own subsistence, but the rich soil and moderate climate combined to make the Valley the most important wheat-producing region in the Upper South by 1800. The change to wheat as a primary cash crop instead of tobacco as in eastern Virginia was said by Samuel Kercheval to have been inspired by the French Revolution in 1794, when all kinds of bread stuffs became enormously expensive. Wheat and flour production enriched the region for years afterward. In addition to wheat, local farms produced rye, oats, corn, and hay said to be “superior in quality and quantity” than average.
By the American Revolution the average Valley resident owned between 100 and 400 acres: increasingly, however, larger tracts of land were concentrated in the hands of a select few and tenancy was on the rise. To the west of the Opequon Creek, small family farms characterized the landscape: few people held more than 100 acres. On these small farms, families worked together in the fields. Samuel Kercheval remembered, “Many females were most expert mowers and reapers.” The yoke displayed from the Edward Durrell Collection, COSI, Ohio’s Center of Science and Industry, is the size worn by a woman or a child.
By contrast, the eastern Virginians who settled in east Frederick County in the 1780s and 1790s recreated Tidewater plantation society. These farms were set up with grand manor houses and large-scale agricultural production. Larger farms like Vaucluse outside of Stephens City could also have mills for flour production on site. Foreseeing the growth in agriculture, in 1785 Nathaniel Burwell and his partner, Daniel Morgan, established a merchant mill to buy, sell, and mill local grain and export flour in Millwood. Along with the positives of a successful commercial crop on the local economy, wheat and the large-scale agricultural endeavors helped spread slavery in the Valley. By 1800 approximately 5,000 enslaved African-Americans lived in Old Frederick County, a little more than 32% of the population.
Slavery as an institution was not universally embraced by the Valley settlers. In 1782, Virginia law made the private manumission of enslaved individuals permissible. In an attempt to further this work, a group of Frederick County residents petitioned the Legislature in 1785 to outlaw slavery. Although unsuccessful in this early abolitionist attempt, Winchester became a haven for free African-Americans. Free African-Americans were required by law to register in their place of residence and to carry on their person at all times written proof of their status. Dennis Johnston was among the twenty-one Frederick County slaves manumitted by planter Robert Carter in 1799 and issued a certificate of freedom. His name, along with many other locally-recognizable names, appears in the Winchester 1833 Free Negroes and Mulattoes list available at the Library of Virginia.
Join us next time on November 19 to examine the commerce west of the Blue Ridge!
The music selection for this installment is “Northfield.“
“Winchester is built on a small hill; it is a collection of brick houses and painted frame houses. Well cultivated plantations, adjoining each other, surround the base of the cone on which the town is situated; on the side of the mountains which form an amphitheater, other plantations can be seen. A black and deep soil, which requires only light tillage, yields abundant harvests. Nature is in all her magnificence there!” –Ferdinand Bayard, 1797
The land grants in the Shenandoah Valley were planned as a buffer between the eastern established settlements of Virginia and the French colonies and Native Americans to the west. German, Swiss, and Scotch-Irish immigrant farmers were recruited to settle the Shenandoah Valley in the 1730s. The vast land grants to settlers like Joist Hite, Alexander Ross, and John and Isaac Van Meter (with stipulations for them to recruit one family for every thousand acres) practically ensured the newcomers to the Valley would not be English elites, like the majority of the Tidewater Virginians, but self-reliant and independent farmers from more modest backgrounds.
The new settlements were located in a travel route designated by the Treaty of Albany for the Native Americans, and unsurprisingly, conflict arose between the two groups. Settlers pleaded to the Colonial government for assistance. In 1738, Frederick and Augusta counties were formed – the first counties created west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The formation allowed settlers to organize and protect themselves with a local militia.
About the same time, James Wood was commissioned in 1734 by the College of William and Mary to survey Orange County, the “parent” county for Frederick. Although his early life remains shrouded in mystery, this surveying commission is his oldest documentation in the colonies. As part of his privilege as a surveyor, Wood claimed 1241 acres in the area that would become his home Glen Burnie and the future site of Winchester.
Wood had already received his commission to be clerk of court for Frederick County, but there was no court to speak of initially. The Colonial government had waited to order the establishment of the county court, reasoning that the people who had settled here were “not yet understanding the English language.” The settlers continued in a state of judicial limbo until tensions between the Iroquois and the settlers forced the issue in 1743.
As a surveyor, and therefore a prominent citizen who had likely amassed some wealth from his industry and appointed offices, Wood received court approval to form Winchester’s original lots in the modern-day downtown. In March of 1744, Wood announced he had surveyed twenty-six half-acre lots and two thirty-three foot streets (Loudoun and Boscawen) to create a county town. As part of the agreement, Wood donated parcels for public use, encompassing the lots between today’s Loudoun, Cameron, and Boscawen streets and Rouss Avenue. The Treaty of Lancaster, also signed in the founding year of 1744, helped quell the disputes between settlers and the Iroquois and drive peaceful trade through the town.
Despite Winchester appearing on paper as a sure bet for the county seat, Thomas, Lord Fairfax, the proprietor of the Northern Neck, had other ideas. As described by T. K. Cartmell, “We know that many of the present inhabitants of the old town have had handed down to them the belief that Lord Fairfax actually sliced off from his immense holdings a sufficient quantity of land, and gave, or dedicated, it for the use of the citizens of the County for the purpose of a county seat, that eventually developed into the far-famed Valley City. Such impressions are wrong; and should have been corrected years ago.” Fairfax indeed gave nothing to Winchester and wanted Stephensburg (Stephens City) to have the honor of county seat. It was established in 1758 and according to one description, “was settled almost exclusively by Germans, whose descendants long preserved the customs and language of their ancestors.”
The court selected Winchester through the lobbying of James Wood, who “served a toddy to the judge with the deciding vote.” Winchester became the Valley’s leading commercial, judicial and governmental center within several decades. The first courthouse was built between 1747 and 1751. Concentrated residential and commercial patterns in the town, an early water system (1808) and paved streets (1809), two weekly newspapers and a book publishing industry were indications of Winchester’s increasing urbanization. The vigorous economy encouraged a number of artisans, merchants, and tavern keepers to settle there. Equally important were the free African-Americans that Winchester attracted after 1782 when Virginia law made the private manumission of enslaved individuals permissible. By 1785 the Lower Shenandoah Valley was no longer the edge of the frontier.
Join us for the next installment looking at some of the agricultural history of the Valley on October 15!