By Rachel Lovett, Curator & Assistant Director
Figure 1 Evening scene with full moon and persons Abraham Pether (1756-1812) English c. 1801
The last supermoon of 2020 will occur this Thursday May 7. Traditionally Native Americans have referred to this moon as the Flower Moon. Early North American colonists adopted the Native American names for the moon and these have been handed down over time.
For the people of early America, night was a perilous time. Families shut in for the night, barring the door because they feared robbers, ghosts, and evil spirits lurked around the corner. However, the full moon was considered an opportunity for extended light so people could gather, travel, and even garden by its light.
The bestselling book in 19th century were farmer’s almanacs. These books focused on astrology and described when crops were to be planted according to the moon cycles. One physician from Cincinnati remarked that the “moon had a powerful influence on vegetation and animal life.” Some crops had to be planted at the dark of the moon and others needed to be planted only when the moon was full. [i]
People believed the moon could put the human body out of balance by influencing the amount of moisture in the brain- people were “moon struck.” The night air was thought to be unhealthy. Between 1583 and 1599 as many as 22 people died in London because of “planetary unbalance.” People were more likely to be sick and congested during the night hours, just like we are today. Many people died during the early morning hours; however, we know now this is due to circadian rhythms, not the night air.[ii]
People strongly believed that demons lurked around every corner. What could be a harmless bush by the road by day could easily be mistaken for something sinister by the dark of night. On a winter night in 1725 a man in London ignored the cries for help by his neighbor, who had fallen into a well. He feared the cries came from a goblin. The neighbor drowned.[iii]
|Figure 2-4 Frances Loockerman (Left) Front Door (Center) Richard Loockerman(Right). Both miniatures were done by Robert Field (1769-1819) English c. 1803
If you were invited to a dinner party during the full moon at the Hammond-Harwood House two hundred years ago, you would have been the guest of Richard and Frances Loockerman. While the house is now known as the Hammond-Harwood House, in the 19th century, according to an 1888 guide to the Naval Academy, it was called Loockerman Mansion, as the family lived there for over 100 years. The house was bought for the couple in 1811 by Judge Jeremiah Townley Chase, Frances’ father, who was a powerful politician, once mayor of Annapolis, and a cousin to Samuel Chase, signer of the Declaration of Independence. The couple had married in October 1803 and they began spending a good deal of time at Richard’s plantation named Bennett’s Toulson in modern day Denton, Maryland on the Eastern Shore. Richard Loockerman and his father-in- law Judge Chase quickly came into conflict over Richard’s debts. Unbeknownst to Frances upon their marriage, Richard had a taste for strong liquor and proved to be ill-suited to the good management of money. Judge Chase bought the property for Frances and the children to be closer to him in Annapolis. The estate included the mansion and four acres. Judge Chase never gave the title of the house to Richard, which would have been customary at the time, as Frances being a woman could not hold property if she was married. Richard went back and forth between the city house in Annapolis and the country plantation on the Eastern Shore.
In the era Frances and Richard lived at the house, Annapolis was in a state of decline. Prior to the Revoluntionary War, the city had flourished in a “golden age” when stately brick homes were built amid the influx of wealth and trade. However, by 1810 the city had seen a population decline. In contrast the city of Baltimore was on the rise because of its more favorable, deeper harbor. The annual winter session of the General Assembly proved to be the most active time in Annapolis.
In July of 1817 Ms. Martha Forman was a guest of the Lloyds, across the street from the Loockerman home. She toured Fort Severn, St. John’s College, and St. Anne’s Church and found everything beautiful but on the decline. Annapolis was experiencing a period of gentle decay where everything was beautiful but in ill repair as the more metropolitan city of Baltimore flourished.[iv]
Figure 5 Entry way of Hammond-Harwood House
Upon arrival at the Loockermans’ house you would have entered through the front door and have been greeted by an enslaved servant to store your coat, depending on the season. Through research we have been able to uncover the names of three women who were enslaved by the Loockerman family –Juliet and sisters Mary and Matilda Matthews. The front door has six safety features including a rim lock or box lock, which is an exterior panel for the lock. Frances Loockerman called the house her “castle” and her bedroom the North East Turret. Although the mansion is not quite a castle by European standards, the mansion’s intricate 18th century lock system shuts up this great house just like a fortress.
Urban families like the Loockermans feared burglars. Every evening, men like Richard Loockerman retired with their families to the shelter of their homes. Besides protection from weather, the home provided a safe space from the chaos outside. Burglars known as “smudges” or “night-sneakers” would gain entry into the house during the day and would wait until the family went to sleep. Larger homes were more at risk because of the many entrances.[v]
Figure 6 House-Breakers Thomas Rowlandson (1757-1827) English c. 1788. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
There was one thing that helped keep the thieves at bay- that was the tattler moon. The tattler moon was the bright full moon which showed the faces of thieves and in small communities they were often recognized easily. People were able to travel later and more frequently during full moons.
In Birmingham, England, in the late 18th century the Lunar Society, a debating group that included members like Josiah Wedgwood, held monthly meetings to coincide with the full moon so that members could travel on clear bright nights.[vi] Here in Annapolis in the 18th century there were many men’s social clubs including the Tuesday Club, the Homony Club, and the Ugly Club. The Lunatick Club of Annapolis only met during the full moon.[vii]
If you were traveling to the Loockermans’ party at night, the journey was not only dangerous because of thieves but also because of poor lighting. A British Parson by the name of Woodforde noted in his 1787 diary, “So dark was the lane that I fell down in the mud three times before I reached my gate much discomforted.”[viii] Well into the 19th century, just a year before the Civil War, residents near the courthouse in Annapolis asked the corporation to install a lamp post and lamp because they suffered “greatly dark nights for the want of a little light in our street for it is very dangerous for us in traveling such nights. There is always more or less cattle laying on the sidewalks of the street and there is a row of posts planted along the bank fence and we really cannot see them.”[ix]
Figure 7 Night William Hogarth (1697-1794) English c.1738
This was a stark contrast to the city of Baltimore in this period. If you had chosen to accept an invitation to a dinner party in Baltimore rather the at the Loockermans’ in Annapolis you would have been greeted with gas lighting on the streets; the lighting had been installed in February of 1817. Rembrandt Peale, second son of artist Charles Willson Peale, created the first purpose-built museum in America in 1814, and installed gas lighting in his museum in 1816. He helped form the Baltimore Gas Company (now BGE), and in February of 1817 the city of Baltimore was illuminated with gas street lamps. By contrast the sleepier Annapolis would not get lamp lighting until the mid-19th century.
Once entering the Loockermans’ house your eyes would have adjusted to notice your surroundings, taking in the glowing scene before you. The lighting would have been a mix of candles, whale oil lamps and possibly gas lighting.
Beeswax was the preferred candle of the elite; however, tallow candles made from animal fat were the most common but least desirable. They were mainly made of mutton, beef, or hog fat — they emitted a thick black smoke and did not burn as well. They also gave off an unpleasant odor and had to be trimmed every 15 minutes or “snot” the burnt bits of charred wick might cause a fire. Beeswax was only used for very special occasions, even by the rich.[x]
Or you could have witnessed the new gas lighting which was very expensive in early 19th century but much desired. A woman by the name of Sydney Smith wrote to Lady Mary Bennett in 1821, “What a folly to have a diamond necklace… and not light your house with gas! The splendor and glory of Lambton Hall makes all other houses look mean. How pitiful to submit to a farthing candle existence, when science puts intense gratification within your reach! Dear Lady, spend all of your fortune in a gas apparatus. Better to eat dry bread by the splendor of gas, then to dine on wild beef with candles.”[xi]
Figure 8 Argand Lamps
The argand lamp was invented in 1782 by Swiss physicist Aimee Argand. A gentleman by the name of Benjamin Thompson commented in 1811 that the light from an argand lamp was so bright that “no decayed beauty” should expose her face too closely to its rays. [xii]
Hours before the party the preparations would have been underway by the enslaved servants to ensure a successful evening. Robert Roberts, a free black manservant employed Governor Christopher Gore of Massachusetts, wrote The House Servants Directory in 1827. This was an A to Z guide for young house servants coming up in the trade. His book covered everything from how to polish mahogany to how to buy fish at the market. In his guide he gives some advice on the management of a supper party saying,
“Now, my young friends in the next place I shall give you some observations on the management of a supper party. In the first place, we will consider the party to be from twenty to thirty. Such parties are very common in private families of fashionable standing. In such parties they generally play cards and therefore have your lamps or candles in good order and lighted up before the company has come, and if cold weather, have your fires in good order; likewise have your card tables placed out, and your chairs adjusted, and everything properly arranged uniform…that everything may go in good order and without any bustle.”[xiii]
Figure 9 Dining Room by candlelight
Upon being greeted by your hosts and meeting your fellow dinner guests you would have seen the architectural splendor in the formal dining room lit by the soft lighting. The furnishings around the room were all carefully selected to impress and reflect the light. As historian Jennifer Anderson writes in her book Mahogany: The Cost of Luxury in Early America,
“In the homes of affluent American, mahogany furnishings, often with shiny brass hardware or gilded decorative details, were typically combined with other equally polished or reflective objects, such as silver tea services, brass candlesticks and andirons, large looking glasses, cut-crystal chandeliers, and mirrored wall sconces. In the evening, these shimmering elements caught, refracted, and magnified the candlelight dancing off of people’s lustrous silk clothing, gold or silver buttons, and shiny metallic lace or embroidery, giving the interiors as well as their occupants an enchanting glow.”[xiv]
Figure 10 Mr. and Mrs. Isaac Winslow John Singleton Copley (1738-1815) American c. 1733. The reflective glow of the mahogany emphasizes the silks on Mrs. Winslow. Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.
Dining in the late 18th and early 19th century was an involved process that could take up to several hours. Dinner would begin in the late afternoon. In the winter sometimes as early as 2 or 3pm, as travel was challenging and difficult at night. Conversation was important as it was expected that you would converse with your host and guests at length. Possessing a charming and witty disposition went a long way to gaining the respect and admiration of your fellow guests.
The meal would consist of multiple courses, the first containing soup and meats and the second and even third having savory dishes like roasted chicken and cooked vegetables with sweets. Dinner would end with a dessert course and the tablecloth was removed to show an extensive centerpiece of sweets in front of them. After dinner, the men would stay at the table or enjoy cards and then rejoin the women in a withdrawing room, where they could enjoy games, dancing, and music. At the house there are two rooms upstairs that are set up for entertainment and were probably used by the Loockerman family to entertain guests.
For about four decades after the Revolution rich families, like the Loockermans, still held parties and gatherings in Annapolis, but the overall social scene was beginning to decline. However, one highlight was the annual Colts Ball given by newly elected delegates at the beginning of the legislative series.[xv] In December 1824 Marquis de Lafayette visited Annapolis and as he was an associate with Judge Chase it is not unlikely to think the he might have visited Judge Chase’s daughter Frances in this grand house to be entertained.
After dinner Frances Loockerman would have led the ladies to the second story ballroom or withdrawing room fashioned in the neoclassical style. If you were among this group you may have observed that fashion was taking a dramatic change during the federal era. Dresses were becoming more form fitting and the color white was very popular. The excavation of Pompeii had taken place in Italy and Greek and Roman art and architecture were very popular. Women wanted to look like Greek statues and went to great lengths to achieve that. It was a big change from the formal gowns their mothers had worn just thirty years prior during the Revolution.
Figure 11 The Tea Party Henry Sargent (1770-1845) American c. 1824. Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.
Gentleman either remained at the table for conversation or followed Richard Loockerman up to the second story game room and drinks. In the game room gentlemen could get into trouble gambling at high stakes. Richard would have used a room like this to entertain friends after dinner.
Figure 12 Game Room at Hammond-Harwood House with original Loockerman Chairs.
Gambling in the Chesapeake was prevalent amongst all classes and genders. Popular games included whist, loo, and brag- a precursor to modern day poker. Richard was incredibly charming and handsome yet records show he had a darker side of indulgence. After 1790, probably in response to anxiety generated by rapid and unsettling social and economic changes, American men began to drink alcohol more than in previous generations. By the late 1820’s there was an all-time high of four gallons a year. This phenomenon was called “beastly intoxication”.[xvi] For some couples it meant divorce like in the case of the Loockermans’ contemporaries Charles Carroll of Homewood and his wife, Harriet Chew. The Loockermans’ union, though troubled, did not end in divorce and there appears to be real affection between them.
When the group met back together there could have been musical accompaniment with a piano forte like the one now in the ballroom, which is an 1806 Broadwood & Sons piece. As travel was challenging late at night you may have stayed the evening as the guest of the Loockermans. Waking in the middle of the night was not uncommon and even expected. In the winter people could sleep up to fourteen hours if they went to bed when the sun went down and people carved out a space known as the waking hours, which is a term given by historian A. Roger Ekirch book At Day’s Close Night in Times Past. Whilst most people were exhausted when they first went to bed, in the middle of the night after five hours they would be rested. People would wake up, light a candle and write letters, read a book, sew or play a game for two hours and then go back to bed. Couples choose this time for intimacy, waking up in the middle of the night and going back to sleep after. In the country some people would even travel a short distance to visit a friend, but this was rare in the city unless family were very close by. Frances’ sister Matilda lived nearby so it is not a stretch to think she may have come over during the waking hours. Children, especially in upper class families, were expected to sleep through the night, and not disturb parents during this time. It would have been a time when Richard and Frances could have caught up on the day’s events and had some time to themselves.
|Figure 13The Bolt Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806) French c. 1777
After the group had dispersed the enslaved servant would have taken care to properly shut in the house after the household had gone to bed. In Robert Robert’s 1827 directory he gives some advice on this topic:
“When the party has broken up and dispersed proceed to extinguish your lamps. Your lamps must be turned down not blown out. Then push up the keys of your lamps that the oil may not flow over and spoil the carpets, for this would be a sad disaster…. then fasten your front door and go round the house to ascertain whether they are all safe and fastened. The most important duty of a servant it to go around and see the house and all fires are safe…your employers depend upon it. How many instances have we heard and seen of house being burnt through the neglect of the servants not having paid proper attention to the fires and lights? And on the other hand, how many houses have we heard of being robbed, through the neglect of the servant not paying proper attention to shutting the doors and fastening the windows? Another thing you should have your hall door fastened at dusk, to prevent anyone from coming in and stealing coats, cloaks, hats as this very often the case in a city, and owing to the servants not fastening it in proper season.”[xvii]
So, if you head out doors during the full moon think about the the advice from our ancestors of early America, and be thankful for proper lighting and science.
Figure 14 Front Door Rim Lock
[i] Jack Larkin, The Reshaping of Everyday Life 1790-1840 (New York: Harper & Row, 1989), 18.
[ii] A. Roger Ekirch, At Day’s Close Night in Times Past (New York: W.W. Norton & Co, Inc, 2006) 12.
[iii] Larkin, 29.
[iv] Jane Wilson McWilliams, Annapolis City on the Severn (Baltimore: Maryland Historical Trust Press, 2011), 128.
[v] Larkin, 37.
[vi] Maureen Dillon, Artificial Sunshine A Social History of Domestic Lighting (London: National Trust, 2002), 14.
[vii] McWilliams, 60.
[viii] Dillon, 14.
[ix] McWilliams, 161-162.
[x] Ekirch, 105.
[xi] Dillon, 17.
[xii] Roger W. Moss, Lighting for Historic Buildings A Guide to Selecting Reproductions (Washington D.C: Preservation Press, 2007), 75.
[xiii] Robert Roberts, The House Servant’s Directory (Boston: Monroe and Francis, 1827), 49.
[xiv] Jennifer L. Anderson, Mahogany the Costs of Luxury in Early America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012), 54.
[xv] McWilliams, 121.
[xvi] Larkin, 286.
[xvii] Roberts, 54.