Saturday, September 1, 2012

13 Lucy Bakewell Audubon: Englishwoman on the Frontier

In 1812 on the far western edge of the United States 25-year-old Lucy Bakewell Audubon was wife to a storekeeper in Henderson, Kentucky, a town overlooking the Ohio River. Catering to a population of about 150 people, the store began the War in precarious financial condition. Lucy's husband remembered the country was "so very new, and so thinly populated that the commonest goods only were called for. I may say our guns and fishing-lines were the principal means of our support, as regards food." The couple were happy with each other, their two young children and their neighbors, "but our sales small....[I] only now and then thought of making any money."

The green boundary line
is the western border of the United States during the War of 1812,
Henderson in red.

Surprisingly, for Lucy's husband never gave much thought to making money, the business prospered during the War. The family purchased a log home and began speculating in real estate, planning a mill and a branch of the store across the river in the Illinois Territory.

A new store in Georgetown, Kentucky in late 1813
 offered dry goods and military outfits. 
Good whiskey or home woven linsey would be bartered the same as cash.

Lucy Bakewell Audubon (1787 - 1874)
in the 1840s, soon after the invention of photography
In her log house Lucy created civilization on the frontier, presiding over a home with an extensive library, elegant furniture and enslaved servants who kept the house and worked the gardens, which had a small zoo of birds and animals John brought home from frequent hunting trips.

Mill Grove, the Audubon family's Pennsylvania estate,
painted here in 1820, is now an Audubon museum.

Lucy was British gentry, born into a wealthy landowning family. Her father inherited an estate in Derbyshire but sold everything and took his family to America in 1801 where he eventually purchased a Pennsylvania mansion. Neighbor John James Audubon, born in the French Colony of Sainte Domingue (now Haiti), refused to call on the British immigrants. "English was English with me... I wished to know none of the race." But one morning he ventured into the parlor "where only one young lady was snugly seated at her work by the fire..."

Last year this cotton dress attributed
 to Lucy Audubon was up for auction, deaccessioned by the
Anna Safley Houston Museum of Decorative Arts,
Chattanooga, Tennessee

Despite French/Engish antipathy the young couple married in 1808. They set off across Pennsylvania's Allegheny Mountains to Pittsburgh and the headwaters of the Ohio River, floating down the river to Henderson, an up and coming settlement.

John James Audubon (1785-1851)

The War's end in 1815 brought more success to the Audubons, but the good years were short. In the national depression of 1819 the mill failed and the Audubons lost everything, including two young daughters. John James was imprisoned for debt.

The Audubon's mill building stood in Henderson
until it burned in 1915

Audubon realized that art rather than commerce was his destiny. He earned some money with portraits but nature was his love. Until his bird paintings began to sell in the 1830s Lucy supported the family. Like many other immigrants, her European education and elegance qualified her to run a school and teach as a governess, which she did throughout the South.

Audubon's Birds of America was published
in several volumes in the late 1820s.

In 1840, prosperous once again, John James built a house for Lucy along the Hudson River.

Minniesland in 1851

Minniesland (Lucy's family nickname was Minnie) stood in New York City's Washington Heights neighborhood until the early 20th century.

Minniesland in 1917, a Victorian oasis at 155th Street.

Lucy and her granddaughters about 1870

Read a book about Lucy Audubon:
Lucy Audubon: A Biography by Carolyn E. DeLatte, new edition 2012.

In September we will consider early appliqued quilts
like this one dated 1812.

In these quilts the designs are generally cut from calicoes rather than chintz. Here the
 fabric may be domestic rather than imported.

This well-worn example, signed MMT (or WWT) was sold in an online auction a few years ago.
The seller documented it nicely.

1 comment:

WoolenSails said...

I really enjoyed reading about lucy and her family. I usually look at photos, but have been reading more, so I can learn more about quilts and their history.