Sunday, February 16, 2014

How 17C colonial American women came to ice skate - From Europe to England to colonial America

Saint Lidwina is a Dutch saint who loved to go ice skating, until she fell and broke her rib. This 1498 image of a real skating scene is found in the book 'Vita alme virginis Lydwine' that was written by father Jan Brugman. The print depicts the unfortunate fall of the canonized Lydwina of Schiedam  (1380-1433) a hundred years before.

Watching the Olympics from Russia today, I began to wonder when women's skiing & ice skating events began in the Olympics & when women first began to ice skate.  The first Olympic figure skating events were part of the 1908 Summer Olympics. Events for both men & women took place at that Olympics.  Colonial American women were ice skating during the 17C.

Woodcut from Olaus Magnus. Swedish Olaf Mansson (Swedish historian, 1490-1557) wrote, "Among the Sami, both men & women take part in hunting & fishing." Winter scene from Finnmark. Three sami with skis, participating in the hunt. The middle hunter is a woman.  These wooden boards were used for skiing.

Ice skating by young men is recorded in London in the 12C.  The 1st English mention of ice skating is found in a biography of Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas à Beckett written by his former clerk William FitzStephen around 1180, in his "description of the most noble city of London."  The account reads: "when the great fenne or moore (which watereth the walles of the citie on the North side) is frozen, many young men play upon the yce, some striding as wide as they may, doe slide swiftly...some tye bones to their feete, & under their heeles, & shoving themselves by a little picked staffe, doe slide as swiftly as birde flyeth in the aire, or an arrow out of a crossbow. Sometime two runne together with poles, & hitting one the other, eyther one or both doe fall, not without hurt; some break their armes, some their legs, but youth desirous of glorie, in this sort exerciseth it selfe against time of warre..."

Hendrick Avercamp (Dutch artist, 1585–1634), Winterlandschap met schaatsers. c 1608 (detail).  This crowded winter scene presents a cross-section of Dutch society enjoying a wide range of winters sports, on the frozen waterways.

There is some confusion about where women first began to ski & skate.  The Dutch believe that ice skates were a Dutch invention.  Scandinavians, however, claim that ice skating was introduced in the Netherlands by their Viking ancestors who visited the European coasts around 800. They think the art of ice skating derived from the Nordic custom to prevent people from sinking in loose snow by binding boards under their boots. This custom should have resulted in both skiing & ice skating.

Hendrick Avercamp (Dutch artist, 1585–1634), Winterlandschap met schaatsers. c 1608 (detail).

The discovery during the 19C of ancient bone skates in Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, the Danube valley & England suggests that ice skating may be much older than 1,700 years.  A study by Federico Formenti of the University of Oxford suggests that the earliest ice skating happened in southern Finland more than 3000 years ago.

 Adriaen Pietersz van de Venne (Dutch painter, 1589-1662), Autumn 1625 detail

The first skates were flattened bone that was strapped to the bottom of the foot. The oldest pair of skates known date back to about 3000 B.C., found at the bottom of a lake in Switzerland. The skates were made from the leg bones of large animals, holes were bored at each end of the bone & leather straps were used to tie the skates on. An old Dutch word for skate is "schenkel" which means "leg bone."

Adriaen Pietersz van de Venne (Dutch painter, 1589-1662), Winter 1625 detail

In the 13th Century, the Dutch invented steel blades with edges. The Dutch started using wooden platform skates with flat iron bottom runners. The skates were attached to the skater's shoes with leather straps. Poles were used to propel the skater. 

1695 Cornelis Dusart (Dutch artist, 1660-1704) published by Jacob Gole (Dutch, c. 1675 - 1704)

Around 1500, the Dutch added a narrow metal double edged blade, making the poles a thing of the past, as the skater could now push & glide with his feet (called the "Dutch Roll").  In the Netherlands, all classes of people skated. Ice skating was a way people traveled over the canals in the winter months.

La Hollandoise sur les patins after Cornelis Dusart (Dutch artist, 1660-1704)

James II (1633-1701) helped introduce ice skating to the British aristocracy in the late 1600s. In 1742, the Edinburgh Skating Club, the 1st British figure skating club, was formed in Scotland. To gain membership in the club it was necessary for the skater to be able to skate a complete circle on either foot & to jump over one, then two & then 3 hats placed on the ice.  The 1st English instructional book concerning ice skating was published in London in 1772. The book, written by a British artillery lieutenant, Robert Jones, described basic figure skating forms such as circles & figure eights.

Fille de petit bourgeois d'Amsterdam...  Bernard Picart (French engraver, 1673-1733) Ice Skater

Skating in North America came with Dutch settlers to New York . Upon visiting colonial New York, English clergyman Charles Wooley wrote in 1678, "And upon the Ice its admirable to see Men & Women as it were flying upon their Skates from place to place, with Markets upon their Heads & Backs."

A La Mode Romeyn de Hooghe Published by Nicolaes Visscher II c 1682-1702

By the 1730s, images of women getting help from a gentleman to put on their skates become popular in Europe.

Four Ages of Man; L'Adolescence; print Nicolas Lancret (After) Nicolas de Larmessin III (Print made by) Nicolas de Larmessin III (Published by); 1735; Paris.

From 1400 to the 19C, there were 24 winters in which the Thames was recorded to have frozen over at London: 1408, 1435, 1506, 1514, 1537, 1565, 1595, 1608, 1621, 1635, 1649, 1655, 1663, 1666, 1677, 1684, 1695, 1709, 1716, 1740, 1776, 1788, 1795, & 1814. Images of these periods show hundreds of folks on the river, some ice skating. 

  Nicolas Lancret (French painter, 1690-1743) Fastening the Skate.

An eye-witness recorded the London frost of the 1680s: "On the 20th of December, 1683, a very violent frost began, which lasted to the 6th of February...the Thames was so frozen that a great street from the Temple to Southwark was built with shops, and all manner of things sold." John Evelyn (1620-1706) noted, "Coaches plied from Westminster to the Temple, and from several other stairs too and fro, as in the streets, sleds, sliding with skates, bull-baiting, horse and coach races, puppet plays and interludes, cooks, tippling and other lewd places, so that it seemed to be a bacchanalian triumph, or carnival on the water."

Winter by John Simon after Nicolas Lancret, published by Thomas Burford 1758

When the Thames was not frozen over, early Londoners skated on the frozen marshes of Moorfields, just north of the old walled city. Archaeologists working on London's recent Crossrail dig have found medieval ice skates. By the middle of the 18C, skating in Hyde Park in London had become a popular winter pastime.

Samuel Hieronymus Grimm (1734-1794) Skating in Hyde Park

Pennsylvania-born lawyer Alexander Graydon (1752-1818) was a Captain in the Revolutionary Army & Delegate to the 1790 Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention.  Graydon was obviously aware of the New York men & women who carried their wares on their heads as they skated from place to place, when he wrote of figure skating in 18C Philadelphia in his 1811 "Memoirs of a life, chiefly passed in Pennsylvania: within the last sixty years" Graydon wrote, "With respect to skating, though the Philadelphians have never reduced it to rules like the Londoners, nor \ connected it with their business like Dutchmen, I will yet hazard the opinion, that they were the best & most elegant skaters in the world. I have seen New England skaters, Old England skaters, & Holland skaters, but the best of them could but make " the judicious grieve." 

The Pleasures of Skaiting - or, a View in Winter from orig by John Collet pub by Carington Bowles, London c 1780

Graydon continued, "I was once slightly acquainted with a worthy gentleman, the quondam member of a skating club in London, & it must be admitted, that he performed very well for an Englishman. His High Dutch, or, as he better termed it, his outer edge skating, might, for aught I know, have been exactly conformable to the statutes of this institution: To these he would often appeal; & I recollect the principal one was, that each stroke should describe an exact semicircle. Nevertheless, his style was what we should deem a very bad one. An utter stranger to the beauty of bringing forward the suspended foot towards the middle of the stroke, & boldly advancing it before the other, at the conclusion of it, thus to preserve, throughout his course, a continuity of movement, to rise like an ascending wave to its acme, then, gracefully like a descending one, to glide into the succeeding stroke without effort, either real or apparent—every change of foot with this gentleman seemed a beginning of motion, & required a most unseemingly jerk of the body; an unequivocal evidence of the want of that power, which depends upon a just balance, & should never be lost—which carries the skater forward with energy without exertion; & is as essential to his swift & graceful career, as is a good head of water to the velocity of a mill wheel. Those who have seen good skating will comprehend what I mean, still better those who are adepts themselves; but excellence in the art can never be gained by geometrical rules. The two reputed best skaters of my day were General Cadwallader, & Massey the biscuitbaker; but I could name many others, both of the academy & Quaker school, who were in no degree inferior to them; whose action & attitudes were equally graceful."

Charles Willson Peale (American artist, 1741-1827) John and Elizabeth Lloyd Cadwalader with their daughter Anne.  John Cadwalader (1742-1786) was a commander of Pennsylvania troops during the American Revolutionary War; and apparently, he was a fine skater.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The love of his life! Margaret Winthrop c 1591-1647 Wife of Massachusetts Governor John Winthrop

Margaret Winthrop (c. 1591-1647), the 3rd wife of John Winthrop, first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, was the 4th child and 2nd daughter of Sir John and Lady Anne (Egerton) Tyndal of Great Maplestead, Esses, England. Her father was one of the masters of chancery; her mother was the daughter of Thomas Egerton of Suffolk and the widow of William Deane of Deaneshall.

Nothing is known of Margaret Tyndal’s early life and education. She was married to John Winthrop on Apr. 29, 1618, and moved to his father’s home, Groton Manor in Suffolk. She was his third wife. At the time of her marriage she was 27 years old, 4 years younger than her husband.

Adam Winthrop, father of John, was still lord of the manor, and his unmarried daughter Lucy was still a member of the household. As the new wife and mistress of the manor, Margaret Winthrop was charged with the care of her husband’s 4 children by his 2 former marriages, ranging in age from 12 to 3. Within 3 years she had 2 children of her own, Stephen and Adam.

In addition to her childrearing responsibilities, her household duties were heavy. Visitors were numerous, markets remote, and roads suitable for horseback travel only; the manor had to be sufficient unto itself for all its varied needs. Overseeing the operation of such a household was the best preparation she could have for the difficult, pioneer life in New England.

During many months of the 12 years before 1630, when John Winthrop sailed for the Massachusetts Bay Colony, his position as attorney at the Court of Wards and Liveries kept him at his chambers in London. His visits to Groton Manor were brief and infrequent, especially after plans for emigration were under way.

It was during this long period of enforced separation that the letters between them were written. Both husband and wife put their love to God first, love of husband and wife second.

In Margaret Winthrop’s words “ I have many reasons to make me love thee, whereof I will name two, first because thou lovest God, and secondly because that thou lovest me.” Religious feeling exalted their mutual love and dignified it.

After her husband had left England, Margaret Winthrop remained at Groton for more than a year, until he could make suitable preparation for her coming. Only a few brief notes are preserved from this period.

She arrived in Boston Nov. 4, 1631, in the ship Lyon, which brought a cargo of much-needed supplies for the winter. Her baby daughter, Anne, had died on the voyage.

“The like joy and manifestations of love had never been seen in New England,” John Winthrop wrote in his Journal. One week later, on Nov. 11, “We kept a day of thanksgiving at Boston.”

Margaret Winthrop had 16 years of pioneer experience as the 1st lade of the colony during her husband’s long service as governor and assistant. She revealed some of her feelings in her letters from the new colony.

In a letter, dated “Sad Boston, 1637,” while the ANNE HUTCHINSON disturbance was at its height, she confessed to being “unfit for any thinge, wonderinge what the Lord meanes by all these troubles among us.” She found in herself a “fierce spirit, unwilling to submit to the will of God,” and yet in the next sentence could say, "God’s will be done." She did not know how to say otherwise.

She died after one day’s illness in midsummer 1647, apparently of influenza. In her husband’s words, she “left this world for better, being about fifty-six years of age: a woman of singular virtue, prudence, modesty and piety, and especially beloved and honoured of all the country.” There is no portrait of that “lovely countenance” that he had so “much delighted in and beheld with so great contente.” Four of her 8 children survived her, Stephen, Adam, Deane, and Samuel.

A love letter from John Winthrop to his 3rd wife Margaret in 1618

To my best beloved Mistress Margaret Tyndall at Great Maplested, Essex. 

Grace mercie & peace, &c: 

My onely beloved Spouse, my most sweet freind, & faithfull companion of my pilgrimage, the happye & hopefull supplie (next Christ Jesus) of my greatest losses, I wishe thee a most plentifull increase of all true comfort in the love of Christ, with a large & prosperous addition of whatsoever happynesse the sweet estate of holy wedlocke, in the kindest societye of a lovinge husbande, may afford thee. Beinge filled with the joye of thy love, & wantinge opportunitye of more familiar comunion with thee, wch my heart fervently desires, I am constrained to ease the burthen of my minde by this poore helpe of my scriblinge penne, beinge sufficiently assured that, although my presence is that which thou desirest, yet in the want thereof, these lines shall not be unfruitfull of comfort unto thee. And now, my sweet Love, lett me a whyle solace my selfe in the remembrance of our love, of which this springe tyme of or acquaintance can putt forthe as yet no more but the leaves & blossomes, whilest the fruit lyes wrapped up in the tender budde of hope; a little more patience will disclose this good fruit, & bringe it to some maturitye: let it be our care & labour to preserve these hopefull budds from the beasts of the fielde, & from frosts & other injuryes of the ayre, least our fruit fall off ere it be ripe, or lose aught in the beautye & pleasantnesse of it: Lett us pluck up suche nettles & thornes as would defraud of plants of their due nourishment; let us pruine off superfluous branches; let us not sticke at some labour in wateringe & manuringe them : — the plentye & goodnesse of fruit shall recompense us abundantly: Our trees are planted in a fruitfull soyle; the grounde, & patterne of our love, is no other but that betweene Christe & his deare spouse, of whom she speakes as she finds him, My welbeloved is mine & I am his: Love was their banquetting house, love was their wine, love was their ensigne; love was his invitinges, love was her fayntinges; love was his apples, love was her comforts; love was his embracinges, love was her refreshinge: love made him see her, love made her seeke him: love made him wedde her, love made her followe him: love made him her saviour, love makes her his servant. Love bredd or fellowshippe, let love continue it, & love shall increase it untill deathe dissolve it. The prime fruit of the Spirit is love; truethe of Spirit true love: abounde with the spirit, & abounde with love: continue in the spirit & continue in love: Christ in his love so fill our hearts with holy hunger & true appetite, to eate & drinke with him & of him in this his sweet Love feast [referring to the sacrament of the Holy Communion, which it was then the custom to administer to the bride and bridegroom at their marriage], which we are now preparinge unto, that when our love feast shall come, Christ Jesus himselfe may come in unto us, & suppe with us, & we with him: so shall we be merrye indeed. (O my sweet Spouse) can we esteeme eache others love, as worthy the recompence of our best mutuall affections, & can we not discerne so muche of Christs exceedinge & undeserved love, as may cheerfully allure us to love him above all? He loved us & gave himselfe for us; & to helpe the weaknesse of the eyes & hande & mouthe of or faithe, which must seeke him in heaven where he is, he offers himselfe to the eyes, hands & mouthe of our bodye, heere on earthe where he once was. The Lord increase our faithe.

Nowe my deare heart let me parlye a little with thee about trifles, for when I am present with thee my speeche is prejudiced by thy presence, which drawes my minde from it selfe: I suppose nowe, upon thy unkle's cominge, there wilbe advisinge & counsellinge of all hands; & amongst many I knowe there wilbe some, that wilbe provokinge thee, in these indifferent things, as matter of apparell, fashions & other circumstances, rather to give contente to their vaine minds savouringe too muche of the fleshe &c, than to be guided by the rule of Gods worde, which must be the light & the Rule; for allthoughe I doe easyly grant that the Kingdome of heaven is not meat & drinke, apparell &c, but Righteousnesse, peace &c: it beinge forbidden to fashion ourselves like unto this world, & to avoyde not only evill but all appearance of it must be avoyded, & allso whatsoever may breed offence to the weake (for which I praye thee reade for thy direction the [epistle] to the Rom:) & for that Christians are rather to seeke to edifie than to please, I hold it a rule of Christian wisdome in all these things to followe the soberest examples: I confesse that there be some ornaments which for Virgins & Knights daughters, &c, may be comly & tollerable, which yet in so great a change as thine is, may well admitt a change also: I will medle with no particulars, neither doe I thinke it shalbe needfull; thine owne wisdome & godlinesse shall teache thee sufficiently what to doe in suche things: & the good assurance which I have of thy unfained love towards me, makes me perswaded that thou wilt have care of my contentment, seeing it must be a cheife staye to thy comfort: & withall the great & sincere desire which I have that there might be no discouragement to daunt the edge of my affections, whyle they are truly labouring to settle & repose themselves in thee, makes me thus watchfull & jealous of the least occasion that Satan might stirre up to or discomfort. He that is faithfull in the least wilbe faithfull in the greatest, but I am too fearfull I doe thee wronge, I knowe thou wilt not grieve me for trifles. 

Let me intreat thee (my sweet Love) to take all in good parte, for it is all of my love to thee, & in my love I shall requite thee: I acknowledge, indeed, thou maist justly say to me as Christ to the Pharisies, Hypocrite, first cast out the beame that is in thine owne eye &c, for whatsoever I may be in thy opinion, yet mine owne guiltie heart tells me of farre greater things to be reformed in my selfe, & yet I feare there is muche more than in mine owne partiall judgment I can discerne; iust cause I have to complaine of my pride, unbeleefe, hardnesse of heart & impenitencie, vanitye of minde, unrulinesse of my affections, stubbornesse of my will, ingratitude, & unfaithfullnesse in the Covenant of my God, &c. therefore (by Gods assistance) I will endeavour that in myselfe, which I will allso desire in thee. Let us search & trye or hearts & turne to the Lord: for this is our safetye, not our owne innocencye, but his mercie: If when we were enemies he loved us to reconciliation; much more, beinge reconciled will he save us from destruction.

Lastly for my farewell (for thou seest my lothenesse to parte with thee makes me to be teadious) take courage unto thee, & cheare up thy heart in the Lorde, for thou knowest that Christ thy best husbande can never faile thee: he never dies, so as there can be no greife at partinge; he never changes, so as once beloved & ever the same: his abilitye is ever infinite, so as the dowrye & inheritance of his sonnes & daughters can never be diminished. As for me a poore worme, dust & ashes, a man full of infirmityes, subiect to all sinnes, changes & chances, wch befall the sonnes of men, how should I promise thee any thinge of my selfe, or if I should, what credence couldst thou give thereto, seeinge God only is true & every man a lyar. Yet so farre as a man may presume upon some experience, I may tell thee, that my hope is, that suche comfort as thou hast allreadye conceived of my love towards thee, shall (throughe Gods blessinge) be happily continued; his grace shalbe sufficient for me, & his power shalbe made perfect in my greatest weaknesse: onely let thy godly, kinde, & sweet carriage towards me, be as fuell to the fire, to minister a constant supplie of meet matter to the confirminge & quickninge of my dull affections: This is one ende why I write so muche unto thee, that if there should be any decaye in kindnesse &c, throughe my default & slacknesse heerafter, thou mightest have some patternes of or first love by thee, to helpe the recoverye of suche diseases: yet let or trust be wholly in God, & let fis constantlye followe him by or prayers, complaininge & moaninge unto him or owne povertye, imperfections & unworthynesse, untill his fatherly affection breake forthe upon us, & he speake kindly to the hearts of his poore servant & handmayd, for the full assurance of Grace & peace through Christ Jesus, to whom I nowe leave thee (my sweet Spouse & onely beloved). 

God send us a safe & comfortable meetinge on Mondaye morninge. Farewell. Remember my love & dutye to my Ladye thy good mother, with all kinde & due salutations to thy unkle E: & all thy brothers & sisters. Thy husband by promise,


Groton where I wish thee. Aprill 4. 1618.
My father & mother salute thee heartyly with my Lady & the rest.
If I had thought my lettre would have runne to halfe this lengthe I would have mayde choyce of a larger paper. 

A love letter From John Winthrop to his 3rd wife Margaret in 1620

July 12. 1620.

To my veryc lovinge wife Mrs. Winthrop at Groton in Suffolk.


I salute thee heartylye, giving thankes to God who bestowed thee upon me, and hath continued thee unto me, the chiefest of all comforts under the hope of Salvation, which hope cannot be valued: I pray God that these earthly blessings of mariage, healthe, friendship, etc, may increase our estimation of our better and onely ever duringe happinesse in heaven, and may quicken up our appetite thereunto accordinge to the worth thereof: O my sweet wife, let us rather hearken to the advise of our lovinge Lord who calles upon us first to seeke the kingdom of God, and tells us that one thinge is needfull, and so as without it the gaine of the whole world is nothinge: rather then to looke at the frothye wisdome of this worlde and the foolishnesse of such examples as propounde outwarde prosperitye for true felicitye.— God keepe us that we never swallowe this baite of Satan: but let us looke unto the worde of God and cleave fast unto it, and so shall we be safe.

I know you have heard before this of my coming to London: I thank God we had a prosperous journye and found all well where we came: I doubt not but thy desire wilbe now to heare of my returne, which (to deale truely with thee) I fear will not be untill the middest of next weeke: for the Parl' is putt off for a week; and I have many friends to visit in a short tyme: but my heart is allready with thee and thy little lambes, so as I will hasten home with what convenient speed I may: In the meane tyme, I will not be unmindfull of you all: but commend you dayly to the blessinge and protection of our heavenly Father.

Remember my dutye to my father and mother, my love to Mr. Sands and all the rest of my true freinds that shall ask of me, and my blessing to our Children; and so giving thee commission to conceive more of my Love then I can write, I rest

Thy faythfull husbande
John Winthrop.

This posting based on information from Notable American Women edited by Edward T James, Janet Wilson James, Paul S Boyer, The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1971

Also see Some old Puritan love-letters: John and Margaret Winthrop, 1618-1638. Edited by Joseph Hopkins Twichell. Dodd, Mead and company, 1894.