Colonial times reborn at Montpelier Mansion


October 30, 1998|By Lourdes Sullivan | Lourdes Sullivan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

THE WEATHER was perfect, the troops in the two encampments brave and the apothecary's instruments gruesome.

Colonial Day at Montpelier Mansion on Sunday was terrific.

Built in 1783, Montpelier Mansion was the perfect setting for this re-creation of Revolutionary-era life.

The British and the Loyalists looked stunning in their scarlet uniforms trimmed with silver piping.

Complimented on his uniform, an officer replied, "These are no good in battle, but they do get us the ladies."

At the time, the gentleman in question was surrounded by three adoring children and a young woman -- all in Colonial dress.

During the festival, docents and volunteers opened the mansion to visitors at an admission fee discount.

The mansion is a jewel of a Georgian-style building. Its caretakers change the furnishings to reflect the seasons, as is done in the better-known restored houses of Williamsburg, Va.

Among the historically accurate furnishings that may be surprising to a modern eye were the wooden Venetian blinds that had just been removed for the winter and stacked in an upstairs room.

The dining room has fuchsiawalls and floral floor coverings reminiscent of wall-to-wall carpeting.

The carpet, a reproduction of the original style, was woven in 28-inch strips that were sewn together by the installer, just as they would have been in Colonial times.

Docents Babs Bailey and Judy Young assured visitors that the carpet design is almost certainly historically accurate.

The carpet's style dates from the time of the mansion's original occupants -- Maj. Thomas Snowden and his wife, Ann Dorsey Ridgely Snowden -- the 1780s and early 1800s.

An inventory of the mansion's furnishings -- taken after the death of the Snowdens' son, Nicholas Snowden, in the early 1830s, by his wife, Elizabeth Warfield Thomas Snowden -- confirms this, they said.

Bailey was dressed in a reproduction 1830s-style dress. She is president of the Friends of Montpelier Mansion.

The style of Young's brown-and-white-striped dress was the height of fashion in the late 1780s.

The mansion's main parlor is papered with handmade block-printed floral wallpaper -- another unexpected feature of a late Colonial-era home.

Montpelier Mansion -- which is surrounded by some of the best kite-flying grounds in the area -- offers guided tours by costumed docents Sunday afternoons.

The cost is $3 for adults and $1 for children.

Two events are planned at the mansion next month: a free lecture on indentured servants in early Maryland at 7: 30 p.m. Nov. 18; and a workshop on Christmas decorating, Williamsburg style, on Nov. 21.

Information: 301-953-1376.

Irish roots

Pamela Clark is offering a one-day seminar on tracing one's Irish roots from 9: 30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 7 at Carroll Baldwin Hall.

Originally from New England, the Savage resident has traveled a great deal.

Several years ago, Clark spent a few months in Ireland looking up her Irish ancestors.

"They're the most wonderful people on the Earth," she said of the Irish. "They sort of adopted me. And the poorer they were, the more generous they were."

Her experiences in Ireland led her beyond her research to a broader project -- she collected her oral history of Ireland in this century.

According to Clark, the view of Ireland that many Americans get from televised reports of violence is a one-sided picture of a rich culture.

In her workshop, Clark will connect present-day events in Ireland to the historical movements that prompted many Irish to leave their country.

Clark plans to use her oral history tapes to illustrate her points.

The Irish have an "extraordinary ability to create neighborhoods and communities," she said.

Clark plans to touch briefly on the Great Hunger -- the potato famine of the 1840s that led to massive starvation and emigration -- and on the "Troubles," the political struggle for independence from Great Britain at the beginning of this century.

Part of the difficulty in tracing Irish ancestors stems from the long history of the Irish in this country. The Irish presence in Southern Maryland goes back to the 1630s.

The Troubles pose another challenge to the researcher because of the destruction of civil records.

Clark has developed strategies for tracing Irish roots. One of the most important things to learn, she says, is the name of the county or town from which the immigrants came.

The Irish National Heritage Centers put parish and other records on microfilm in the 1950s, but it is difficult to search so many records. Knowing where one's ancestors came from speeds the process, Clark said.

Sources such as abstracts of wills, household registries kept for tithing purposes and other lists also exist.

Clark will discuss the best resources in the area for beginning a genealogical study. The National Archives and the Mormon church have helpful genealogists on staff, too, Clark said.

The daytime workshop session, from 9: 30 a.m. to 4: 30 p.m., includes an interactive presentation by Clark and a traditional Irish lunch.

She's making stew, an assortment of Irish tea- and soda-breads and a porter cake (made with stout) for dessert.

To give participants an opportunity to begin looking things up immediately, Clark will offer an evening session featuring a lecture by Tom Foley, also a genealogical researcher. He will speak about the history of the Irish in America from 1850 to 1880.

Those who attend the evening session will be able to use Clark's collection of genealogical materials. They will enjoy an Irish supper of Champ -- a potato and carrot side dish -- and ham.

The cost for the day session is $60; $35 for the evening. Both sessions together cost $75.

Information: 301-483-6745.

See more North Laurel /Savage news on Page 6B.

Pub Date: 10/30/98

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