Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Women’s Hair Styles and the American Revolution



In the matter of hair styles colonial Americans took their cues from Europe.  Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, was the fashion icon of the day and set a fad for outlandishly tall, elaborately decorated wigs in the late 1700s. Her hairdressers created hairdos that often weighed five or more pounds and stood up to three feet high. Her wigs were imitated by other members of the French court and soon ladies of fashion throughout Europe and in the American colonies. The height of these styles was generally about 1 to 1 1/2 times the length of the face, and was styled in a pyramid shape.  This high hairstyle, called the pouf, was created using “cushions” made of fabric or cork.  The cushion was attached to the top of the head, and then natural and false hair was curled, waved, or frizzed and piled over and around the cushion.  The pouf was often styled into allegories of current events and was ornamented with ribbons, pearls, jewels, flowers, feathers, as well as ships, birdcages, and other items that evoked the theme.  Such elaborate hairstyles could be worn for days or weeks at a time and frequently became the home of insects.  It was permissible to scratch the head with a special stick.

The hairstyles of most American women were generally not as extreme as those in Europe. With coming of the Revolution in 1776, the passion for high hair began to wane in America. It seemed extravagant, wasteful, silly and raised suspicions of pro-British sympathies.  Josiah Bartlett, a delegate to the Continental Congress, wrote to his wife in 1778 about, “the Tory ladies…wearing the most enormous high head Dresses after the manner of the Mistresses and Whores of the British officers.”

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Sunday, February 02, 2014

Did Slavery Pay? The Economics of Slavery


From : Why the South Fought the Civil War

The production of cotton in the Deep South demanded labor, and with the termination of the African slave trade, this demand for labor fueled an explosion in the price of slaves and the proliferation of the domestic slave trade.  Slavery was a dynamic institution, expanding where the economy was expanding and providing an easily convertible asset in case of need.   The case of Hickory Hill plantation is illustrative.  Hickory Hill, owned by the Wickham family, was a 3,500 acre plantation located in central Hanover County, near Richmond, Virginia.  The plantation practiced the most up to date agricultural methods.  The most important pillar of the Wickhams’ financial security, however, was the increasing value and number of slaves at Hickory Hill.  In 1852 there were two hundred slaves valued at $70,000, an average of $350 each at Hickory Hill.  In 1860 there were 275 slaves, averaging slightly more than $650 each, worth $180,000.  In eight years the value of the Wickham’s slave property increased two and one half times.  Low crop yields were not something the Wickhams had to worry about.  If the Wickhams had to endure several consecutive years of crop failures, they could always sell some of their slaves.(9) The Wickham family was not alone however; as previously noted, slave owning was not only for wealthy planters.(10)

     Fueled by speculation, the total value of slave property across the South in 1860 was enormous compared to other sectors of the economy.  It was nearly three times larger than the total amount of capital invested in manufacturing throughout the entire country, almost three times the amount invested in all railroads, and seven times the amount invested in all banks.  It was three times the value of all livestock, twelve times the value of all farm implements and machinery and forty eight times larger than the total annual expenditures of the Federal government. (11)  Slave owning Southerners worried about the loss of this huge investment.  Northerners, such as Ambert Remington of New York, foretold that, “…a man that owns ten, twenty, or thirty thousand dollars in slaves, ($4-12 million in current dollars) will not give them up without a struggle….” (12)


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