Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Featured Manuscript: Washington’s Laundry Lists

Front cover our bound Washington
laundry list manuscripts.

When asked to imagine the first president of their nation, Americans often conjure up images of a picturesque hero fearlessly crossing the Delaware river or nobly signing the Declaration of Independence. Few visualize the president partaking in mundane activities, such as writing letters or even having laundry done. In this blogpost, I will analyze Washington’s laundry lists, illustrating a seemingly insignificant yet essential part of the president’s life. 

The Morristown National Historical Park acquired the laundry lists from Lloyd W. Smith in 1955. The lists are bound in a brown leather book. The whimsical book depicts a gilded washtub in the center and clothes pins around the border. Furthermore, there is a cap in each of the corners. The inside of the book is marbled and the bottom center of the inside says the name of the binder “Stikeman and Co.” in gold.

Although the book includes only three laundry lists, there are many filler pages to keep it level. The first page contains an inscription by Smith. The code “VB-2” indicates the filing system for his personal collection. The other inscription shows the Hartmann auction house, signed “Mr. + Mrs. Hartmann,” gave Smith the book. It is unclear whether the laundry lists were a gift or a purchase. As a frequent customer of the auction house, it is not unlikely that Smith bought the laundry list himself. However, other pieces of evidence suggest that the artifact was a gift from the auction house to Smith who was a loyal customer. First, Smith habitually wrote the prices of his purchases in case of future resale, but there is no such mark on this artifact. The playful nature of the book, additionally, suggests it was a gift because someone took the time to bind laundry lists and decorate the book cover in gold. Finally, although Smith’s normal practice was to write the specific date of his purchase, the book’s inscription says, “Christmas 1926,” suggesting that the laundry lists were a Christmas present. 

The first list is from May 6th and the second is from May 18th. The documents record the number and types of garments to be washed. Washington himself would not have written his own laundry lists nor taken part in business transcriptions to have his clothes cleaned. Instead, Washington would have had a representative carefully document and send off his dirty belongings. While it seems tedious to count each article of clothing, this was necessary because in Washington's time, clothes were more expensive than they are today and, as a result, people owned less of them. Contrary to the norm of owning little garments, Washington, a newly inaugurated president and wealthy plantation owner, needed and could afford an extensive wardrobe. Interestingly, both laundry lists were written less than a month after Washington's inauguration in New York City on April 30, 1989. Therefore, it is fun to imagine that these lists call for the washing of the undergarments Washington wore when he was sworn in as president. 

First two documents:

May 6th . 1789

6 Ruffled } shirts

2 flair }

8 Stocks

3 Pair. Silk hose

2 White } Hand [?]

2 Silk }

1 [?] Drawers [underwear]

1 Hair Net

May 18th. 1789

12 Shirts

12 Stocks

4 Whites }

5 Silk } Hand [^]M.

3 [?]lk Hose

2 hair Nets

1 [?] flannel drawers

As for the third document, the front includes a laundry list written on April 28, 1789. The back of that same paper has a record that the service was paid for on May 25, 1989. The paper has been folded thrice vertically. The folds allow the document to fit into an organizer. Additionally, the back of the page says, “Catherine Warner… May 26th. 1789,” so when the document stands up, one can distinguish it from other records. This is often how people stored court cases and business transactions. Additionally, this document is much larger than the first two. Thus, while the previous laundry lists were scraps of paper, the third document was probably taken out of a ledger. 

April 28 1789, Front:

G Washington To Sarah Warner 28 of April 1789

Fo Washing and ironing 7 dozen and 10 pieces 

Of clothes of 5 Shillings a c’o fen






20 Shirts

20 Stocks

4 Pocket handkerchiefs

1 Silk

1 pair of Silk Stockings

1 pair Cotton Stockings

1 night cap



8 Shirts

8 Stocks

4 pocket handkerchiefs 

1 pair of Drawers

1 night cap

3 pair of Stockings



12 shirts

12 stocks

9 pocket handkerchiefs

2 night caps

7 peair of Drawers

3 peair of Stockings

2 peair of Stockings



For Jacbn

2 dozen peases


9 dozen and ten peases





The back:

Received May 25th. 1789 the leem of time 

pounds ten shillings in frele for the 

wettin lesson of wanting ten day of [?] to

The [?] of the [?] State


Catherine X Warner


The text that is upside down:

Ded. 8.339 

Catherine Warner


May 26th. 1789.

Another interesting aspect of the third document is its mention of the individual who washed Washington’s clothes. The front of the document refers to her as “Sarah Warner” while the back calls her “Catherine Warner.” The different first names suggest that a mother and daughter were responsible for the laundry. While the identity of the woman is unclear, one can speculate about her identity. The washer may have been an enslaved woman or a freed woman who worked for pay. She may also have been a local white woman at a boarding house. Although Warner’s identity remains a mystery, the document does reveal that she was unable to write. The back of the paper records that Warner was paid and in place of a signature she marks an “X,” acknowledging her received payment and showing to modern audiences that she was illiterate.

Overall, although Washington himself did not write these laundry lists, the documents interestingly illustrate Washington's human need for clothing while conveying how his regular want for an abundance of clean garments was unique to the wealthy first president and other individuals of similar stature. In addition to providing insight about the seemingly mundane aspects of the president’s life, the document showing the transaction gives recognition to the women who washed the president’s clothing and contributed to Washington’s clean and pristine image. 

This blog post by Siobhan Nerz, Bucknell University

Friday, February 11, 2022

Meet the Intern: Caroline Mull

Caroline Mull, Drew '22
The division of Cultural Resources would like to welcome Caroline Mull (she/her) to the fold. 

Caroline is a senior History and French major at Drew University. She'll be completing her MS in Data Analytics in 2023. Her research interest, in no particular order, include pre -1950s American, English, and Francophone History, the mystery genre, sewing (particularly with historical patterns), and all things old books, handwriting, paper, and ephemera. She will get to combine her love for history and data analytics by helping us update our current digital humanities projects. Her primary project will be to update our Google Cultural Institute tour of the historic Ford Mansion.

Caroline is interested in Morristown NHP because she is eager to try something hands-on while focusing on the historical periods she is most fascinated with. The digital aspect of this internship, all while working in an office, is incredibly interesting and is very fun for her. She is eager to develop the park’s digital presence on a Google Arts & Culture tour while getting to investigate a very special piece of furniture within the collection. She's looking into the history and provenance of a Chippendale style dressing table to determine its maker, year, or any other information.  

Welcome, Caroline!

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Remembering Ronalds and Unpacking a Contentious Past

Superintendent Ronalds with
a contractor during construction of the
Pennsylvania Line huts, c. 1963.

Today we at Morristown National Historical Park pause to remember a figure instrumental in the growth not just of this site but of the entire National Park Service. Francis S. Ronalds served as superintendent of Morristown National Historical Park from 1940 to 1967. However he was much more than that. In a decades-long career that stretched from the New Deal through the Space Age he was responsible not just for his daily responsibilities here at Washington’s Headquarters but for the acquisition and development of several historic sites on behalf of the Park Service system and American people.

Francis Spring Ronalds was born in Grayville, Illinois on August 28, 1897. He grew up in the first two decades of the twentieth century and married Grace Ann McFadden in 1919. Their daughter Margaret was born in 1920. In these same years he matriculated at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he majored in History and was active in the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity.

In researching this piece we learned with great shock and disappointment of his involvement in another campus organization: the college
Undergraduate University of Illinois
yearbook showing Ronalds as a member
of the campus Ku Klux Klan
s Ku Klux Klan chapter.
 The 1921 University of Illinois yearbook described the Klu Klux Klan, as it was locally spelled, as an inter-fraternity junior social organization.” It may surprise some readers to know of the size and scale of the Klan in the 1920s and that millions of Americans joined the organization. This discovery from Ronalds’s past is in keeping with similar revelations related to historic figures in recent years and part of the Ronalds biography that we cannot minimize or ignore. 

Ronalds continued his studies and completed his PhD in the late 1920s, writing his dissertation on the Whig revolution in seventeenth century Great Britain. He also earned a degree from the Indiana University School of Law. In 1925 he and wife Grace had a second child, a son. For much of the late 1920s and 1930s Dr. Ronalds taught History at the Urbana-Champaign campus.

In the mid-1930s Ronalds opted for a career change. It was an opportune time for someone of his interests and skill sets; the Franklin D. Roosevelt Administration was restructuring the National Park Service, using New Deal funds to improve NPS infrastructure, and expanding the organization’s longstanding emphasis from primarily nature sites west of the Mississippi River to cultural and historical ones closer to the East Coast. For its part Congress enacted the Historic Sites Act of 1935, which President Roosevelt duly signed that August 21st. From this legislation came, among other things, The National Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings. Ronalds and his family moved to Washington, D.C., where he served as Historic Sites Survey coordinator. The Ronalds were not in the District of Columbia for very long; by 1939 they moved to Morristown, New Jersey. From there he supervised historic sites in several states stretching along the Eastern Seaboard. President Roosevelt took a close personal interest in the National Park Service. He was especially keen on seeing the Frederick W. Vanderbilt estate—which stood in Roosevelt’s hometown of Hyde Park, New York—placed under the auspices of the Park Service system. Ronalds worked closely with the administration to make that happen, visiting the privately-owned Vanderbilt mansion on October 3-4, 1939 with a Park Service colleague and again a few weeks later with the same colleague and President Roosevelt himself. I
n 1940 the Vanderbilt mansion and estate—all 200 plus acres—joined the NPS. For the next several years Ronalds served as the Vanderbilt administrator, overseeing its daily operations, historical interpretation, and the inventorying the art, furniture, and other artifacts. This was all in addition to his being superintendent of Morristown National Historical Park.

The following December the United States joined the Second World War after the attack on Pearl Harbor. In 1942 daughter Margaret married a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Forces and son Francis Jr. became a U.S. Navy officer. On October 28, 1943—the anniversary of the Statue of Liberty dedication—Superintendent Ronalds stood with others on the steps of the Sub-Treasury Building on Wall Street and participated in a remote-controlled lighting of Lady Liberty
s torch, which had been extinguished for security reasons once the United States had entered the conflict. Its temporary relighting was part of a bond initiative to raise money for the war effort. Earlier that very month on October 8, 1943 Ronalds was at President Roosevelt’s Hyde Park home discussing National Park Service business. On January 13, 1945—a few weeks prior to Roosevelt’s leaving for the Yalta Conference in the Crimea—Superintendent Ronalds conducted an oral history with President Roosevelt in which the historically-conscious world leader discussed the role that his Hyde Park home played in his life. Less than three months later President Roosevelt died in Warm Spring, Georgia. Today Franklin Roosevelt’s Hyde Park home, called Springwood; Eleanor Roosevelt’s nearby Val-Kill cottage; and the Vanderbilt mansion collectively comprise the Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Historic Site.

Ronalds’s work was paying off. When the war ended the work if anything his pace accelerated. Space constraints prohibit a full rendering of his rich and varied career, but a brief list of his additional accomplishments include: negotiating in 1945 with the Adams family and Adams Memorial Society for the turnover to the American people of what is now Adams National Historical Park, the Quincy, Massachusetts birthplaces and homes of Presidents John and John Quincy Adams; assistance in the designation of Newport Rhode, Island’s
Touro Synagogue as a National Historic Site it 1946 and laying of a tablet there one year later; co-founding the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1949; creating what became the American Museum of Immigration on Liberty Island; working with local, states, and federal stakeholders to help create Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia; and serving on the advisory board of the popular history magazine American Heritage.”

Superintendent Ronalds
with a descendant of the
Marquis de Lafayette, c. 1955.

Throughout all this he remained superintendent of Morristown National Historical Park. Each February there were usually annual public commemorations of Washington’s birthday. General tourists visited daily and scholars such as Carl Van Doren and Douglas Southall Freeman used the growing Morristown collection—and utilized Ronalds
s expertise—to research such books as Van Dorens Mutiny in January: The Story of a Crisis in the Continental Army Now for the First Time Fully Told from Many Hitherto Unknown Or Neglected Sources, Both American and British” (1943) and Freemans seven-volume, Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of George Washington (1948-1957). One of this greatest accomplishments was negotiating with Lloyd W. Smith, the long-serving president of the Washington Association of New Jersey, the organization that had worked in the waning days of the Herbert Hoover Administration to gift the Ford Mansion to the American people under the stewardship of the National Park Service, for the acquisition of Mr. Smith’s sizable collection of books, letters, manuscripts, broadsides, and other ephemera. The Lloyd W. Smith Collection is housed today in the Morristown NHP Library. Superintendent Ronalds and others at Washington’s Headquarters watched with great concern in the early 1960s as public officials began planning the construction of an expressway through Morristown. Such a highway would bisect the different sites within the historical park. By 1964 park officials succumbed to the inevitable and ceased their protests against what became Interstate 287. 

Hilltop cemetery in Mendham showing
gravestone of Ronalds and his wife Grace.
Their daughter Margaret is buried under the
 arched silhouette cutout behind her parents.

Ronalds retired from the National Park Service on March 31, 1967. He died
in Silver Spring, Maryland in February 1985 and rests today in Mendham, New Jersey’s Hilltop Cemetery.


Closeup of Ronalds' stone

Written by Keith Muchowski, Morristown NHP volunteer.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

To Decorate or Not Decorate, That is the Question: Representing Colonial Christmas at the Ford Mansion

Today for many of those who share in the celebration of Christmas, either as a religious observance or as a secular festivity, decorating in honor of the holiday is often, one of the greatest joys of the season. So much of that decorating feels ancient, in a way. This carrying on of traditions passed down from generation to generation, filled with song, story and varying religious or cultural elements has been with us for years, or has it

Decorating for many includes trees and greenery, baubles, fruit, and shiny things of every shape and size, perhaps some candles and even decorated plates and cups. The people who observed Christmas in the late 18th century, had a very different relationship with the holiday, quite contrary to today’s ideas on Christmas and how we decorate and celebrate it.

We know that a Colonial Christmas varied from one British colony to another. According to the folks at the Norfolk Town Assembly, “In New England, Christmas celebrations were illegal during parts of the 17th century and were culturally taboo or rare in former Puritan colonies from foundation until the mid-18th century.” [1]
However, it seems the further south one went, the more the celebrating increased, Morristown National Historical Park states "...down in Jamestown, Virginia the Englishman John Smith noted a very merry celebration held by the settlers. Christmas in colonial times was kept – or not kept – according to one’s religious background and country of origin. “ [2]   George Washington’s Mount Vernon website sums it up by saying, “In the 18th century, Christmas was primarily a religious holiday marked by parties and visits from friends and relatives. There was little decoration. Rather, Americans expressed their holiday spirit through the abundance of their tables and increased prayer and contemplation.”[3]

With the advent of our historic furnishing report, we began thinking about where the colony of New Jersey fit with its late 18th century Christmas traditions, and whether our decorating traditions at the Ford Mansion in particular, were true to that period.  We began researching, trying to find an accurate representation of a bygone celebration, or perhaps even lack thereof.  
( photo courtesy Morristown NHP Facebook page)
Mount Vernon’s, website has some insight into what Washington was doing the Christmas he spent here in Morristown in 1779.  “On Christmas Day, George Washington paid £15 ‘for a band of music.’ A few days later, he attended ‘the celebration of the festival of St. John the Evangelist by the American Union Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons.’ “
[4]  Citizens of many of the colonies still held to the British celebration of Twelfth Night or the Twelve Days of Christmas. Norfolk Town assembly explains, “December 25, with its Christmas feast, began a festive season that lasted well into January. The twelve days of Christmas, the season of parties, balls, festive dinners, and other holiday merry making, began on December 26th and lasted until January 6, also called Twelfth Day or Epiphany.[5]

photo courtesy of thisoldhouse.comSo why do Colonial museums and historic sites include fruit adorned wreaths and lavish greenery in their depictions of the winter season?

Colonial Williamsburg is often the default image of 18th century Christmas décor. There you can find wreaths and evergreen branches adorned with food, fruit, and flowers, even seashells. According to Katlin Hill from the This Old House website, “The elaborate designs wouldn't have been seen in the 18th century—historical documents suggest that holiday decorations, if any, were minimal. But in order to create a festive experience for a 21st-century audience, the team sources items that would have been familiar to the people of the period…”[6] Colonial Williamsburg curator Carl Childs said they are very open that their wreath tradition dates back to 1934 and not the 18th Century. It is a sort of "compromise" of modern decorating expectations and items that would have been available during the 18th century. [7]

What would Theodosia Ford’s mansion have looked like when the Washingtons, et al. lived there during the Christmas holiday?

Mount Vernon, on speaking of seasonal décor at Washington’s own mansion in Virginia has this to say, “You may notice that there is no greenery in the Mansion like we see in modern homes.” [8] There is, however, many references to tables being set with the fine foods, drink and desserts to share with beloved friends and family. That tradition is one that we have used at the Ford Mansion to convey the look of a 1779 Christmas.

The winter of 1779 was one of the coldest and snowiest on record, as troops starved only miles away from the Ford Mansion, we do not necessarily want to convey that privileged class of people staying in the home would have been so bold as to decorate that home with pineapples and other assorted food stuffs, which would have much better served the starving people, than a sprig of greenery over a doorway.  For that reason, we do not want to adopt the Colonial Williamsburg style of holiday decoration.

There is very little primary source material suggesting that the season was the decorating extravaganza that we see today. Morristown NHP is currently working on a historic furnishing plan we hope will give a more accurate and inclusive look into the dynamics of privilege and power represented in the Colonial home. This will include depictions of how enslaved people, who were part and parcel to the operations in and around the Ford Mansion celebrated and decorated for [or did not] the holiday, or if they were afforded that liberty at all. Stay tuned.

[1]  Norfolk Town Assembly staff. Holiday Traditions in Colonial America. 12 December 2021. <>. 

[2] Morristown National Historical Park staff. Sing We all Merrily: A Colonial Christmas. 13 December 2021

[3] George Washington’s Mount Vernon staff. How Mount Vernon Decorates for Christmas. 20 December 2021.<>

[4] George Washington’s Mount Vernon staff. George Washington at Christmas-1779. 13 December 2021. < >

[5] Norfolk Town Assembly staff. Holiday Traditions in Colonial America. 12 December 2021. <>

[6] George Washington’s Mount Vernon staff. How Mount Vernon Decorates for Christmas. 20 December 2021.

[7]  Koncius, Jura. The history of Williamsburg’s Beloved (but not so Colonial) Holiday Decorations. 20 December 2017. <>

[8] Hill, Katelin. The Wreaths of Colonial Williamsburg. 21 December 2021.


Blog post by Holly Marino, Museum Specialist Detailee

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

December 8, 1758: A Colonial Wedding

On December 8, 1758 a wedding took place that united prominent families not just from the New York and New Jersey colonies but from the mother country itself. It was on that day that Margaret Kemble, a daughter of the wealthy and powerful Peter Kemble, married Thomas Gage, a colonel in the British army. From the two sides of her family Margaret was related to the Bayards, Van CortlandtsSchuylers, and De Lanceys; Thomas was the son and namesake of an Irish peer who had converted to Anglicism in the early 1700s to bolster his opportunities with Parliament and the Crown. Those efforts paid off handsomely. Thomas Gage Sr. spent decades in politics and died in December 1754 just as his sons military career was taking off. In the early stages of the French and Indian War Thomas the Younger served under General Edward Braddock in the Battle of Monongahela, where the commanding officer lost his life. The resourceful Gages career rebounded after that defeat. So too did the career of another officer serving the British cause that fateful day in the Ohio Valley: George Washington. In the ensuing two decades the two remained cordial despite their growing differences. 

The war continued and Gage worked his way up the ranks. Within two years he was granted permission to raise his own regiment. One of Colonel Gages officers in the unit was Stephen Kemble, who became Gages brother-in-law with the December 1758 wedding. Colonel and Mrs. Gage soon began a family and before the wars end Gage rose to become a major general. When peace came in 1763 Thomas Gage was named Commander-in-Chief, North America and kept his headquarters in New York City. This was fortunate for Margaret, whose friends and family were largely concentrated in colonial New York and New Jersey. Overall it was a good period for the Gages and their growing family. Thomas Gage did well for himself, acquiring sizable land holdings in New York State, British Canada, and the West Indies. In the early 1770s Margaret sat for this striking John Singleton Copley portrait, considered by many art critics to be one of his finest works. The British had vanquished the French in North America but it was a pyrrhic victory as tensions with the American colonists accelerated over the following decade.After the Boston Tea Party George III appointed Gage colonial governor of Massachusetts. Still also commander-in-chief, it was Gage who would have to quell further unrest after the passage of the Coercive Acts. The task proved impossible and things came to a head at Lexington and Concord in April 1775. 

There are some scholars who believe that Margaret Kemble Gage was a mole” or spy” for the Sons of Liberty and that it was she who tipped the Patriots off about her husbands plan to seize the arsenal in Concord. There is no solid evidence to prove this however and a definitive answer will likely never be known. In a related note, some speculate that the Shot Heard Round the Worldand Margaret Gages alleged role in tipping off the Patriotscooled Thomas and Margarets marriage. No one can ever know what takes place within another couples union, but we do know that of their eleven children two were born well after the start of the American Revolution. What is clear is that the Siege of Boston damaged Gagepolitical and military careerFollowing the Battle of Bunker Hill Gage placed General William Howe in charge of putting down the colonists. The former commander moved to London with his wife and was officially relieved of his duties shortly thereafter. 


Back in New Jersey Peter Kemble remained a staunch Loyalist. Mr. Kemble had amassed a substantial estate in Morristown, New Jersey by the mid-eighteenth century. When General Washington searched for winter quarters in late November 1779 he looked to Morristown and chose a location that included part of the Kemble property. Washington and his men stayed until June 1780. The following winter of 1780-81 General Anthony Wayne headquartered in the Kemble House. It was likely due to George Washingtons affection that the Kembles were never harmed during the war. This is quite marked because several of Kembles sons, including Stephen, also remained loyal to King George III. The family was fortunate too after the war: unlike many Loyalists they were not stripped of their holdings and property. Peter Kemble died in 1789 and is interred in the family burial site on what was once his Morristown estate. His daughter, Margaret Kemble Gage, never saw New Jersey or America again. General Thomas Gage died in 1787. Mrs. Gage passed away in 1824 and was laid to rest beside her husband in St. Peter's Churchyard in East Sussex, England. 

Written by Keith Muchowski, Morristown NHP volunteer.