Musings about life, love and genealogy.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Mary Jones: The Tavern Keeper's Wife

March 3, 2015 |

One of my interests is history, and locally that includes the Golden Ball Tavern, a National Trust landmark in Weston, MA. The tavern, built in 1767 by merchant Isaac Jones, served as tavern for more than 20 years and as home to six generations of the Jones family for nearly 200 years.

As a member of the Golden Ball's Education Committee, I volunteer time to give tours of the tavern, telling the remarkable story of Isaac, the role the tavern played during the Revolutionary War and its resurgence as a hotel/boarding home in the mid-19th century during the tenure of Isaac's great-great grandson, George and his wife Lettie Frost Jones. Taverns, ordinaries or inns as they were called, were the social and cultural centers of life in the 18th century and tavern keeping was an important and viable profession, even for women.

Today, the Golden Ball Tavern Museum recalls an integral part of local Weston history through tours to school groups, civic and social organizations and any other groups or individuals interested in an up close and personal glimpse into the lives and history of the Jones family. The tours focus on Isaac Jones, Tory and then Patriot, highlights of the home and tavern, its role in the Revolution and the Weston "Tea Party", but recently, the Education Committee agreed to add a first-person interpretation as well, and that will come in the person of Mary Jones.

Mary was the widow of Stephen Willis and the second wife of Isaac Jones. She married Isaac in 1762, he himself a widower. His first wife, Anna died of small pox, leaving him with three young children. Five years later, when Mary and Isaac took up residence in the newly opened Golden Ball Tavern, their young family had grown to include eight children (4 more would follow).

Little is known about Mary specifically. Unlike Lettie Frost Jones, Mary didn't leave a diary or journal, but conclusions about her daily routine can be drawn by her role as a mother and the wife of a wealthy 18th century tavern owner. A typical day would have included cooking (for both her family and the tavern guests), sewing, cleaning and home management. In 18th century New England, women played active roles shaping their own lives the communities in which they lived. Given her status, Mary Jones was likely no exception.

Clothing, like the furnishings and architecture of one’s home were visual representations of wealth and stature in the 18th century. The quality and quantity of Mary’s wardrobe, and that of her daughters and step-daughters, would have been directly influenced by their position in the community. Although fabric was expensive, the cost to make a woman’s gown or petticoat was not, and It’s probable that Mary owned several gowns, jackets, petticoats, aprons and caps, both for daily wear and for more formal or social occasions. I’d venture to guess that like any woman of prominence, she had multiple pairs of shoes as well.

Clothing, given its expense, was considered property and often listed on probate inventories. When she died in 1813, Mary Jones’ clothing and accoutrements were likely bequeathed to her surviving daughters or daughters-in-law to be refitted, repurposed or restyled.

An abundance of period fashion plates, paintings, websites and blogs are available online to give you a better sense of the fabrics and styles worn by women like Mary Jones in 18th century New England.

To learn more about the Jones family and the Golden Ball Tavern, visit their website or Facebook page.


[Colonial gown image credit:; A Colonial Lady’s Clothing: A Glossary of Terms]
[Isaac Jones 1770 tavern license credit: The Golden Ball Tavern Museum]

Monday, March 2, 2015

Colonial Clothing Re-fit

March 2, 2015 |

The calendar reads March, but Mother Nature clearly doesn’t care. There’s still three feet of snow on the ground and another storm in the forecast for later this week. Since I can’t do anything about the weather, I decided the best way to chase away the winter doldrums and put a little spring in my step is with a new sewing project and some bright and sunny fabric.

The timing for a new sewing project is perfect. It’s school tour season at the Golden Ball Tavern Museum, a Revolutionary War era home and tavern built by wealthy Weston, Massachusetts merchant Isaac Jones in 1767. After chatting with other docents and museum guides at the Burnley & Trowbridge workshop I took in February, I suggested to my GBT Education Committee colleagues that we consider doing a few more first-person interpretive tours with accurately outfitted guides for our younger and most impressionable visitors. A local Girl Scout troop is scheduled to visit sometime in March, touring the tavern to earn a “Playing in the Past” badge. Call me crazy, but it just makes a lot more sense to me to have them learn about colonial clothing by someone who is wearing it.

Be careful what you wish for.

Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love the idea of first-person interpretation and think it will make the experience much more realistic and memorable for the Girl Scouts. However, I’ve lost 50 lbs since I made my first set of stays and English Gown. None of my garb fits and I’m back to colonial clothing square one. My shift and underpetticoat are finished thanks to the Burnley & Trowbridge workshop. I’ve been working on my new stays for a few weeks now and started the leather binding the other night. While they aren’t finished, the stays are far enough along that I can use them to help size and fit my new gown.

In the 18th century, the colonial clothing nomenclature was a bit different than it is today. A ”gown” was worn by every woman of every class, differentiated by trim and fabrics. Wealthy women wore gowns of silk; working women wore more linen and cotton. The gown itself was a single piece garment consisting of a bodice and skirt joined together, with the skirt open in the front to reveal the separate petticoat.

Rather than a new English gown, I'm opting for a jacket with contrasting stomacher and petticoat. As a tavern keeper’s wife and the mother of 11, Mary Jones would have been quite the busy lady with all the cooking, cleaning and sewing she had going on every day. While she probably spent most of her days in a short gown, petticoat and apron, it would have been entirely appropriate for her to greet young visitors in a more stylish jacket and petticoat suitable to her status as the wife of one of the wealthiest citizens in pre-Revolutionary Weston.

I found a paisley and flower cotton print in the clearance section of my local fabric store and decided to pair it with a great sunshine yellow linen that’s spent way too much time in my fabric stash. While the cotton print isn’t 100% historically accurate, it’s close and it’s much easier to rationalize working on a gown I need in a hurry using a new pattern and $8/yard fabric rather than fabric that costs twice that much or more. Even for Mary Jones, the cost of fabric far exceeded the cost to make her gowns.

While some things haven’t changed, even centuries later, sunshine always brings a smile even if it only comes in the form of yards of linen fabric.