Summer Punch

Punch bowl Possibly London, England; 1710–35 Earthenware (delftware) Inscribed on interior “LIBERTY & PROPERTY WITHOUT ANY NEW EXCISE” Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont 1961.1588, Winterthur Museum, Library, and Garden

Punch bowl
Possibly London, England; 1710–35
Earthenware (delftware)
Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont 1961.1588, Winterthur Museum, Library, and Garden

Dr. Lionel Chalmers, a Scottish physician residing in Charleston, South Carolina worked to measure the effects of the summer heat on the body during the 1730s and 1740s.  He recording drinking 95 ounces or over 11 cups of punch of day, during the heat of the summer.  In his letter to the Royal Society he provided a recipe for his favorite summer punch:

The Punch, or Diapente, as I have improperly called it, is made thus:  Take water 2 pounds, Sugar 1 1/2 ounces, recent juice of limes 2 1/2 ounces, rum 3 1/2 ounces. Mix.  This is the punch we commonly drink in the summer, but that which we drink in the Fall and winter is richer, having more sugar and rum and less of the acid. It tis a pleasant subacid, cooling, and exhilarating drink, and proves and excellent diaphoretic in warm weather and good diuretic in cold weather.


Robert Beverley and the Virginia Climate Part 1


In 1705, for the first time, a native born Virginian published a book that included in-depth description about the colony’s climate.  At the turn of the eighteenth century, earlier settler’s had established themselves within the quickly growing colony.  Robert Beverley’s The History and Present State of Virginia examined the history of the colony, natural products suited for trade, native indians, and the current state of affairs.  Beverly included his observations on climate, which for the first time seemed to tell the brutal truth unlike authors before him in the early seventeenth century.  Beverley wrote:

THE Natural Temperature of the Inhabited part of the Country, is hot and moist: tho’ this Moisture I take to be occasion’d by the abundance of low Grounds, Marshes, Creeks, and Rivers, which are every where among their lower Settlements; but more backward in the Woods, where they are now Seating, and making new Plantations, they have abundance of high and dry Land, where there are only Crystal Streams of Water, which flow gently from their Springs, and divide themselves into innumerable Branches, to moisten and enrich the adjacent Lands.  The Country is in a very happy Situation, between the extreams of Heat and Cold, but inclining rather to the first.

He continued and added:

On the other side, all the Annoyances and Inconveniences of the Country, may fairly be summed up, under these three Heads, Thunder, Heat, and troublesom Vermin….Their Heat is very seldom troublesome, and then only by the accident of a perfect Calm, which happens perhaps two or three times in a year, and lasts but a few Hours at a time; and even that Inconvenience is made easie by cool Shades, by open Airy rooms, Summer-Houses, Arbors, and Grottos: But the Spring and Fall, afford as pleasant Weather, as Mahomet promis’d in his Paradise.

More to come in Part 2 “Of the clothing of Virginia”

Mosquitoes, Heat, and Charleston

Sheraton Room

Striped green silk gauze bed hangings found in the Sheraton Room at the Winterthur Museum.

The Letters of Charles Caleb Cotton

Charleston College, June 1, 1790

Mr Dear Brother,

The Climate of Charleston, though very warm at present, is upon the whole, very agreeable.  I am cautious to exposing my self to the fervor of the noontide sun, which is though very dangerous in this country.  The thermometer is usually about 84 in the hottest part of the day, and it ages from this to 90 to 92 during the summer.  I slept with a pavilion made of gauze which covers the whole bed, to protect me from Mosquitoes, which abound here, and are woefully tormenting to strangers coming from Europe, but I am informed that as soon as these sanguinary insects have drawn a certain portion of English blood out of my veins, they will not be so troublesome.

“…mosquitoes are a perfect torment to me.”



If it is not the heat that travelers to the American south complained about, the next most frequent comment typically revolved around the millions of biting mosquitoes.  Charles Caleb Cotton of Charleston, South Carolina wrote in a letter “even when sitting still…I am literally tormented with the bites of mosquitoes.”  Living in a society without the ability to control these insects, created a  garment to help prevent the itchy irritations.  Thomas Pinckney stationed at Fort Moultrie, South Carolina wrote to his sister in 1777 and stated

Please deliver to the Bearer (For I have not as yet determined whether it shall be John or Toby) may Pavillion, Musquito Boots, Conteau de Chasse, and Silver Shoe Buckles.

While the reference to mosquito boots may seem strange, it apparently was a true form of legging or boot.  While traveling through North America in the late eighteenth century, architect Benjamin Latrobe took time to sketch Colonel Blackburn’s method to preventing the biting of mosquitoes.

"Wrappers" by Benjamin Latrobe

“Wrappers” by Benjamin Latrobe

Latrobe wrote “Five yards of green baize, Four yards of list of broadcloth, divide into two portions, apply the some to the part likely to be affected from 4 in the afternoon till 11 o’clock at night.  Colonel Blackburn’s specific against muskitoes bites, in the month of July, Rippon Lodge, July 1797.”


Thermometer Readings


The Virginia Gazette,  September 29, 1752

CHARLES-TOWN, in South-Carolina, July 18.

The late Winter and Spring. With such Part of the present Summer which is elapsed, have proved the driest Seasons ever known in this Province; by which the Crop of Indian Corn (which is our Negroes Provision) has suffers incredibly, may is thought be ruin’d. Most of the fresh Water Rivers are Low fall up to their very Heads; the People in many Plantations are oblige to to others for Water, and in many again there is none to be had for the Creatures; neither is there any on the Roads: (‘Tis said, a Proclamation will soon be issued, appointing a Day of publick Fasting and Hution, on this melancholy Occasion) At the same Time the Weather is so excessive ho that Fahrenheit’s best thermometers shew’d it to be, Yesterday, at 98 Degrees in the Shade, and 126 in the open Air: The same thermometers , at 2 o’Clock this Afternoon, are at 100 Degrees in the Shade.

Thermometer Readings


The Virginia Gazette, Purdie & Dixon, July 18, 1766


Last week, through the excessive heat of the weather, a man while at wrork upon a house in the town of Portsmouth fainted and died soon after, a Negro of Mr. Tatem’s in Norfolk county dropt down in the corn field and expired, and two Negroes in the borough of Norfolk, one belonging to Doctor Campbell, and the other to the Tanwork there, died likewise. The thermometer at a house in this city, about that time, although hanging in a cool place, quite form the sun, was at 94 degrees.

Domestic Production of Summer Textiles

Virginia Gazette, Dixon and Hunter, July 25, 1777, page 4

Virginia Gazette, Dixon and Hunter, July 25, 1777, page 4

 In 1774, delegates to the first Continental Congress signed an Association restricting the import of goods from England and encouraging domestic production.  Article Eight read:

We will, in our several stations, encourage frugality, œconomy, and industry, and promote agriculture, arts and the manufactures of this country, especially that of wool; and will discountenance and discourage every species of extravagance and dissipation, especially all horse racing, and all kinds of gaming, cock fighting, exhibitions of shews, plays, and other expensive diversions and entertainments; and on the death of any relation or friend, none of us, or any of our families will go into any further mourning-dress, than a black crepe or ribbon on the arm or hat, for gentlemen, and a black ribbon and necklace for ladies, and we will discontinue the giving of gloves and scarves at funerals.

Communities across the thirteen colonies, including the south, began producing a wide variety of textiles.  Once the war broke out in April 1775, the demand for textiles increased further.  A group of gentlemen in Williamsburg, Virginia created the Williamsburg Manufactory, a weaving facility located just outside the city for war production.  Newspaper articles advertise some of the textiles produced there which included “a piece of fine linen, with a satin stripe, in imitation of Corduroy, very proper for summer breeches.”  While no samples of this fabric survive, the managers and weavers saw it proper to produce light weight fabrics for the summer. 


Where is the South?

Nicholas Cresswell, by an unidentified artist, ca. 1780, in the Colonial Williamsburg collection.

Nicholas Cresswell, by an unidentified artist, ca. 1780,
in the Colonial Williamsburg collection.

When trying to define the southern colonies,  Nicholas Cresswell stated at the end of his Journal:

The Inhabitants, particularly in the southern Colonies (what I mean by the Southern Colonies is all South of New York) are – or rather were, for these unhappy times have positively made a great alteration in their disposition as well as circumstances – the most hospitable people on earth.

Many southerner’s today would probably take offense to what this Englishman had to say in 1776.  For my thesis I plan to use a more notable boundary line separating the “North” and “South” geographically.  The Mason Dixon Line, often thought by the 19th century as the dividing line between free and slave states, in fact has a much earlier history.

Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon set out the survey the long disputed boundary between Pennsylvania (Penn Family Grant) and Maryland (Calvert Family Grant) in 1763.  The line started 15 miles below the southern most edge of the city of Philadelphia.  On October  9th, 1767, Mason and Dixon completed the survey.

Maryland side (Calvert Family)  Located at Mile Marker 50

Maryland side (Calvert Family) Located at Mile Marker 50

Many physical features of the old surveyed line still exist today.  Every five miles, a limestone block marked the surveyed line.  The side facing Pennsylvania displayed the arms of the Penn Family and the Maryland side displayed the Calvert family arms.  Many of these original stones still survive along the line today.

John Norton and Sons, Merchants of Virginia

The signature of George Wythe from a letter to John Norton in London

The signature of George Wythe from a letter to John Norton in London

The John Norton and Sons papers show the interesting relationship between Virginia planters and their merchant factors in England.  They also shed light onto the diverse wardrobes being ordered by Virginians.  When ordering clothing, many Virginian men specify between winter or summer suits.  Here is one example of summer wear ordered by George Wythe from Williamsburg, Virginia.

To John Norton

From George Wythe, Williamsburg Virginia

May 9, 1768

“ and a suit of very fine like clothe fit for our hot summers with a silk waistcoat and a pair of silk breeches besides.”

George Wythe, like his contemporaries often kept life long relationships with tailors in London.  These tailors had to interpret what the customer ordered as their descriptions tended to be very vague.  In this above order, Wythe mentions “fine clothe” for his suit, which typically meant a woolen textile.  By the 1760s, cassimere was developed as a light weight wool specifically for summer clothing.