The men of the 19th-century maritime world, if they are to be remembered at all, are usually remembered through words: letters, newspapers, manifests, wills, obituaries, history books, etc. The women of the same world, largely unknown, are remembered traditionally, by whomever they married and the children they bore.
But in a curious sort of left-brain/right-brain, Mars/Venus contrast, in which the written record nods off into obscurity, there is another way to remember a 19thcentury woman, and that is by her wedding dress.
To unpack a wedding dress is to bring to light an artifact that summons forth a pivotal event of any woman’s lifetime. Its very shape creates a phantom outline of a long departed figure once poised nervously (or not) within. The aura of that wedding day, with its hope, love, anticipation, and fear, clings with a startling immediacy to the folded garment which may not have been worn since its brief appearance before families and friends.
Our most fragile, most difficult to handle and store, and hence our most under-exhibited artifacts are our textiles collection, which includes over 880 19th and early 20th-century garments. While we have hard hats, sailors’ uniforms and welders’ jackets, there is also great depth in women’s wear, both plain and fancy.
Let us try to catch a glimpse of five brides of maritime Maine, as resurrected by their wedding day dresses.
Annie Stubbs Hawley
An 18 year old Bucksport native and daughter of a Bangor captain, Annie Florence Stubbs wore this dress on July 13, 1887, when she married 34 year old Capt. James W. Hawley of Bath. According to his grand-daughter (and donor of the wedding dress), the captain had been waiting for Annie to grow up to become his bride; how they met is lost to us, but Hawley had been a schooner master for a good decade already and undoubtedly had worked up the Penobscot River tides to Bucksport and beyond to Bangor.
Note the asymmetrical patterned velvet panels on the dress front.
James’ father, Bath shipwright George Hawley, built a new three mast schooner in 1884, and installed his son as both owner and master of the Edward P. Avery, which, in wandering schooner fashion, had a maiden voyage that ran to Galveston,Pensacola, and then well beyond to Bilbao, Cardiff, Cuba , and New York, and on to Rio de la Plata.
The brown silk material has been gathered aft to allow for a supporting bustle worn underneath, over a petticoat.
Knowing that Hawley continued as master of the Edward P. Avery into 1888, and knowing also that the peripatetic schooner captain had to attend his own wedding in Maine by July 13, 1887, it is interesting to note where his schooner was in the weeks leading up to Annie and James’ nuptials.
The weekly New York Maritime Register has the Avery departing Boston for Fernandina, Florida, May 10, departing thence June 15, and arriving New York June 23, three weeks before the wedding. The schooner’s status remains unchanged through August 3, when she drops off the Register‘s ‘Weekly Compendium’ altogether until November 2, reported as leaving Norfolk on Oct.19 for New Haven. This may have been the last trip of the season as New Haven was her home port and the then residence of Capt. and presumably Mrs. James W. Hawley.
Jacket front detailing.
A daughter Ethel was born by 1889; back in Bath, new grandfather George built a schooner that year christened the Ethel F. Hawley. Three sons followed, but were not quite so honored.
Annie’s father-in-law continued building 3 mast schooners into the 1890’s; after retiring from the sea in 1899 and returning to Bath, her husband assumed the business, building and owning several 4 mast schooners between 1901 and 1908. Annie was only to know the first two, as she died in 1903 in the Portland hospital at age 35, of complications from an appendectomy the week before.
Capt. James never re-married, outliving his young wife by another 40 years until 1943, his 91st year, when he died at the Sailor’s Snug Harbor retirement home on Staten Island. He was remembered there as the librarian. James and Annie are both buried in Bath’s Oak Grove cemetery.
Emma McLellan Houghton
Houghton wedding bonnet, front and back
Two Bath family fleets were linked in the brief life of Emma P. McLellan Houghton.
Her grandfather, General James M. McLellan, promoted in the post-Revolution militias, had established a general merchandise import business in Bath by 1806, which led to vessel ownership and construction. Her father, Major James H. McLellan continued building and managing ships, which grew into a cumulative fleet of 51 vessels by the end of the Civil War (the year before she died.) Her brother, Charles H. McLellan, would continue in shipbuilding partnerships through World War I.
In this silk chiffon bodice with cream silk waist ribbon, Emma, 22, married John Reed Houghton, 34, on Nov. 25, 1858. (The donor family has retained the dress.)
The groom’s father Levi had died the year before, which changed the name of his dynamic Bath family mercantile and shipbuilding firm from Levi Houghton & Sons, to Houghton Bros.
Emma and John’s first child, Amory McLellan Houghton, was seven when she died in childbirth with their second, at age 30 in 1866.
accessories: ostrich feather fan, silk ribbon bow with original pins
Amory was eventually brought into the Houghton partnership after 1891 when the Parthia, the last and largest Houghton-built ship was launched. The family continued to manage vessels into World War I, after the death of Emma’s John in 1913.
Eliza J. Drummond
Folded in a small envelope tucked in a mahogany lap-top desk is this scrap of the wedding dress of Eliza J. Riggs, of Georgetown, who married Captain James Drummond of Phippsburg on November 24, 1835. Though the two towns are miles apart by land, they are but a short pull across the Kennebec from each other by boat; the Riggs and Drummonds were well acquainted. Indeed, Eliza’s older brother had married James’ younger sister two years before.
Eliza seems to have been James’ intended for several years previous, judging from the numerous reports about her from his four sisters, as they wrote to him in various ports, with mention of “your Eliza”, both teasing and scolding him for his absence from “Phipsburg.”
But the strain of a captain’s courtship, so dependent on quixotic postal deliveries and the beck and call of distant commerce, can also be detected: to Captain James Drummond, Brig Caledonia, Baltimore, from his brother-in-law, who has traveled south from Bath to New York, “Eliza was on the point of coming with me, but gave it up. I am dreadfully sorry as I would have gone on to Baltimore with her. If she had had some encouraging word from you she would have come, no doubt.”
Of course, history put an end to this exquisite torture. The charming “Acrostick” above, with each line of verse begun with the letters “JAMESANDELIZAJDRUMMOND” could easily have been read at their wedding by its youthful author, “Miranda”. Eliza likely had many attending nieces and nephews as she was the 11th and youngest child of a Georgetown Justice-of-the-Peace who presided at the ceremony, his 105th, at age 76. Eliza was 26, James was 30. They became tenants of Phippsburg’s noted “Spite House”.
The Drummonds would lose their first three children in infancy, starting in 1842. Not until 1851 would survivor Lizzie arrive. Eliza was age 42; she died three months later. The Captain sailed on until 1882, never re-marrying. They all lie just off the Parker Head Road, behind the split granite fence of the Drummond plot in Phippsburg.
Lettice Reed Purinton
If fashion can be predicted by historical proximity, Eliza Drummond’s wedding dress, though we have but a scrap of damasked silk, may have looked a lot like the one below, as the two brides married less than two years and ten miles apart.
Though we know less about her, we have an extraordinarily complete bridal ensemble for Lettice Reed, who on September 10, 1837 was given away by one Topsham captain, her father Joseph O. Reed, to another Topsham captain, Joseph Harding Purinton. The bride was 20, the groom 24.
Of cream damasked silk, this garment is in superb condition, as are the matching silk stockings and side-laced ‘high cut’ slippers. The silk material was imported from France; the dress was created by a Bath seamstress.
Also included in this group are two silk embroidered fringed ‘wedding’ shawls; these may have been presented as gifts to Lettice from Purinton, as they are likely Chinese.
Her head dress, with its faded, stained velvet, is the only piece of the ensemble in less than perfect condition; the wire armature could have supported ribbons or a floral arrangement.
Capt. Purinton’s white silk wedding vest and stock (pre-tied).
Factually, Lettice Reed Purinton remains the most hidden of these five brides; we know that she was to survive her husband by ten years, dying in 1896 at 79. They had two daughters and two sons, one of whom died at 26.
Even more unique to our collection than the bride’s dress, we also have the groom’s wedding vest and necktie [above]. I will, slightly uncharitably, like a gossip at the reception, let slip that Captain Purinton is noted for having lost a Skolfield vessel, the Brandywine, through navigational carelessness off Ireland in 1861, as well as having a reputation for being slow.
Annie Hayden Hyde
The June wedding of a Civil War general to the mayor’s daughter and cousin to a renowned opera singer was about as high society as Bath, Maine could get in 1866. But however well-to-do Annie Hayden was raised and would become as wife of Thomas Worcester Hyde, founder of Bath Iron Works, she was, on her wedding day with her future unwritten, a war bride undoubtedly relieved to be marrying a survivor of numerous Civil War slaughterhouses.
two piece gold file’ wedding ensemble
Though she was not an emotive diarist, we are lucky to have a lifelong series of Annie’s daybooks, wherein she noted with short penciled sentences her daily life as a young woman rising to and assuming her station in upper class society of Bath.
She was courted by Hyde through the war years: Sunday, August 10, 1862
sidelace gold file wedding shoes
By April 1865, it is not clear that Annie knew of her, by then, colonel’s movements towards Petersburg, Virginia, but Hyde’s actions there leading the 1st Maine Veteran Volunteer Infantry were instrumental in the Confederate withdrawal from Richmond, and Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, April 9.
Her diary: Mon., April 10, 1865: Heard this morning of the surrender of Lee and his entire army to Grant. Confirmed later.
T.W. Hyde was present at this event; he was to be promoted that year to Brigadier General for his action at Petersburg.
Wed., April 19, 1865: Pres. Lincoln’s funeral today.
kid leather wedding gloves with lace cuff remnants
For reasons unclear, the courtship faltered: Saturday, May 6, 1865: Mother told me of Tom Hyde’s engagement.
The rest of the year’s pages are blank….except:
Tuesday, Dec. 12, 1865: The engagement ring put upon my finger today. [Exactly six months before the June 13th wedding.]
There are no daybooks for the first years of her marriage, 1866, or 1867.
She resumes in 1868, with the family already growing, e.g.: Sunday, August 9: My second boy born this morning at 5 o’clock. Gruel, tea, and toast.
The diaries continue for the rest of her life.
Though we see [top] a digital scan of a copy print from an 1880’s photographic negative of an oil portrait propped in the sun on the back steps of the Hyde house, we are likely seeing Annie as she looked at the time of her marriage. The resemblance to the mother about twenty years later [bottom] still comes through, if we judge her youngest daughter Madelyn, born 1883, to be about two.
The dress in the portrait resembles the wedding dress, though it appears to be lighter than the gold-toned garment we have, and may have long sleeves.
The Thomas W. Hyde family at their summer leisure about August, 1884: the General with straw boater and goatee, Annie in white print dress attempting without success to contain a blurred one-year-old Madelyn; the two eldest sons John Sedgewick, 17 (with book, named after Hyde’s former commander); Edward (Ned) Warden, 16 (both of these sons would succeed their father in management roles at Bath Iron Works); Ethel, with hydrangeas, a gravely mature 13; Arthur Sewall (named for the original), smirking at age 10 behind his father; and pensive four- year-old Eleanor Hayden.
Annie died in 1915, outliving her husband, who succumbed to Bright’s disease in 1899; and two of her daughters: Ethel dying at 28, three months before her father, and Madelyn at 21 in 1904.
A final word:
Birth, marriage, death: these are the backbone events of a life – the events inscribed in the family bibles, typed on the note cards in the cemetery records, or uploaded to the genealogical websites. Such were my sources for this Orlop, stubborn sources, which, with teeth tightly clenched, reveal so little, really, about the day-to-day lives of these brides, wives, mothers. (Annie Hyde’s diaries are an extraordinary exception.) May the dresses here serve to loosen the blinders on the harness of history.
If you have gotten this far, you may have been struck, as I was, by the fact that three of these five women died “young.” Statistically, this may not be so unusual for the 19th century. While we more readily accept the perils of the sea, a mariner’s wife left at home to bear and raise his children was no less familiar with death.
Not all wives stayed ashore; not all mariner’s marriages ended too soon. From the log of the bark George Treat, between New York and Valparaiso, October 26, 1876: “Light air and calm … Today my Wife Celebrates her Fiftieth Birthday well and hearty, for which we boath are thankful. May God still Continue with us.”
Let me know if you stopped by down here!
Chris Hall, Registrar