En Plein Air

By Lily Kaar

This pretty little box with decorative scrollwork on the sides is an artist’s field box. Fitted with sketching pencils, water tins, porcelain mixing dishes, and even a few cakes of watercolor still in the tray for paint, this was a self-contained art kit for the watercolor painter of the second half of the nineteenth century. A few sketches of flowers are still tucked in the top section.

Watercolor Box

Watercolor Box

Watercolor Box

Beginning from the late eighteenth century up through the beginning of the twentieth, manufacturing advances made many forms of painting easier. Previously, every artist mixed their own paints from ground pigment and linseed oil. The introduction of prefabricated cakes or tubes of paint made painting more accessible to a wider range of people, and also made it easier to move out of the workshop and studio into the natural world.

In the early 1800s, artists working en plain air (French, “in the open air”) made their own carrying cases for their paints and tools. By the middle of the century, the same paint merchants who peddled the new pre-made paint were also selling ready-made kits such as this, with all the tools, mixing pans, water tins, and paint already included. Even more fortuitously for the merchants, painting kits could be scaled in quality, allowing less intricate, cheaper sets to be available for the growing number of amateur artists during the Victorian era. One model sold over 11 million units from 1853 to 1870.1 This particular kit, with its pretty, honey-colored wood, was likely somewhere in the middle of the price range. The cheaper sets were often made of enameled or “japanned” tin. The more expensive sets were made of mahogany.

The rise of watercolor as an appreciated art form was concurrent with the rise of landscapes as an appreciated subject. In Britain, the medium and the genre were tightly linked, as the British tradition of watercolor painting had roots in topographical painting.2 Since most watercolor painters did not make a living from selling their watercolor pieces, they often had more lucrative jobs in addition, including working as drawing tutors. Beginning from the mid-1700s, drawing began to comprise an important part of the education of a young gentleman or lady. Drawing tutors encouraged their students toward an interest in watercolors and landscapes, until gradually, watercolor nature painting was considered an important genteel pastime for the leisure classes.

1 Barker, Elizabeth E. “Watercolor Painting in Britain, 1750–1850.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. Web. 26 June 2015.

British Watercolours 1750-1900: The Landscape Genre.” Victoria & Albert Museum. Web. 26 June 2015.


A Rare Revolutionary Record: The Orderly Book of David Bevier

By Caitlin Cummings

Although the majority of our previous blog posts have focused on the wide variety of objects that make up the Permanent Collection (everything from Civil War era hardtack to 17th century African trade beads), Historic Huguenot Street is also home to an amazing archive of historical documents. The HHS Archives contain many different types of documents from the past (many of which you can explore by visiting the “Learn More” tab on the HHS website, or by taking a trip to our Library), including family papers, journals, letters, legal papers, photographs, etc. Our new exhibit on display in the DuBois Fort Visitor Center relies on five archival pieces that serve to paint a larger picture of New Paltz and its participation in the American War for Independence. “By the Grace of God, Free and Independent:’ The Revolutionary War in Ulster County” is a selection of objects and documents that have direct ties to local residents and which inspire our visitors to remember this period of American history through the particular lens of this mid-Hudson Valley community.

One of the documents featured in the exhibit is the Orderly Book of David Bevier, dating from August 1776 to October 1777. This Orderly Book provides a rare glimpse into the daily routine at Fort Montgomery (near Bear Mountain in Orange County) during the Revolution. It functions as a daily journal containing “Morning Reports” (including lists of “Tories in confinement”), “Garrison Orders” given by Col. Cornelius Humphrey, and “General’s Orders,” given by Brigadier General James Clinton of the Continental Army. These reports largely deal with issues involving the construction of defense preparations designed to enable the rebel army to “more effectually annoy the Enemies Shipping, should they attempt to come up the River.”


To comprehend the significance of orderly books from this time period and what they can tell us about life during the Revolution, we must first understand the role they played for the Continental Army. Only a few several centuries prior to 1775, both the rates of literacy throughout Europe and the eastern hemisphere were so low that great gaps in the historical record are common (as record-keeping and archival preservation were somewhat forgotten practices). Conversely, fast-forward less than one century later to the American Civil War (1861-1865) and you’ll find that the U.S. War Department published a 128-volume set of “official records,” as well as hundreds of maps, a tremendous body of private correspondence, and thousands of soldiers’ diaries.

Although our knowledge regarding the fight for American Independence is in no way characterized as a “great gap” in the historical record, it is hard to compare the thousands of diaries relating to the Civil War to the less than one hundred that have been traced to Continental soldiers. However this is not to say that Washington’s Army was failing to keep thorough records of their day-to-day proceedings, nor that Continental solders were illiterate. In fact, quite the opposite is true; Most of the senior officers of the Continental army had been well schooled in the mid-century record-keeping practices held by the British army during the French and Indian War. Therefore, the majority of officers were implementing similar paperwork practices as early as April of 1775. Regimental officers and their companies were expected to understand and cooperate with the broad array of weekly strength reports, bi-monthly muster rolls and payrolls, clothing & arms returns, and inspection reports that were required for submission to the higher headquarters. The orderly book, above all other paperwork, was probably the most basic and familiar document to the Continental soldiers. Immediately after the first military engagements of the Revolution at Lexington and Concord on April 19th, 1775, the New England militia companies around Boston were ordered to begin keeping orderly books. As Washington’s forces grew more organized, so did the methods of handing out orders, and what better way to record those direct orders than in a daily log of military activity?

General orders for the day originated at Washington’s Headquarters and were given to the “major general of the day,” a position that was filled on rotation by a different officer each morning. The rotating major general then transferred the orders to the adjutant general (an adjutant being a commanding officer’s administrative assistant). Then, adjutants from all of the divisions would congregate in the office of the adjutant general during the early morning hours where the daily orders would be dictated to them. The division adjutants would then return to their respective quarters and pass along the day’s orders to the assembled brigade majors, who would then inform the appropriate regimental adjutants, who would finally dictate to the orderly sergeant who would record and announce the day’s orders from the company-specific orderly book.

To give you a sense of the large number of orderly books that were being maintained on a daily basis, here is the estimate presented by John Robertson & Bob McDonald:

Average of 75 regiments, 9 companies per regiment = 675 books per day


1 headquarters per regiment, 75 regiments = 75 books per day


15 brigade headquarters, 8 division headquarters, & miscellaneous staff positions= 23+ books per day

TOTAL= At least 800 orderly books within the Continental Army being maintained each day

To take that figure one step further, Robertson and McDonald estimated that one orderly book would allow about three months of coverage, so each station listed above would essentially cycle through four orderly books per year. Take that figure and multiply it by the seven and a half years that the war lasted, and the approximate number of orderly books produced by the Continental army during the Revolution becomes about 20,000. Currently, there are only 1,000 orderly books accounted for.

The next question is inevitably, “Why, and how, have nearly 19,000 Revolutionary War records of this kind been lost?” This absence, historians argue, is in no way random. An examination of the existing Orderly Book Index will prove that the large majority of surviving texts come from New England states. While several factors affected the survival rate of orderly books and other revolutionary period archival material, the widespread destruction that accompanied the Civil War is cited as the most prevalent cause.

Luckily, there are a small number of orderly books still surviving, and Historic Huguenot Street is honored to house one of them in its Permanent Collection. Given that the majority of orderly books were created through the transcription of verbal dictation, it is not surprising that the quality of penmanship and the use of spelling vary tremendously from volume to volume. Additionally, it is much more common to find orderly books with poor penmanship, numerous misspellings, errors in syntax, and a large sprinkling of scratch-outs and ink blots than it is to find one that is as beautifully written as this.


Transcription, Cover Page:


David Bevier

His Orderly

Book of Sept. 27th 1771

Scriptum Pr Me Chrisopheris Millerus

Fitze Geraldus

The leather of David Bevier’s Orderly Book has suffered considerable water damage and the binding, in combination with its old age, has begun to fall apart. However, what the cover lacks in aesthetic appeal, the book makes up for within its pages. The first page of the Orderly Book is a lovely arrangement of elegant flowing script that serves to identify the book’s owner as well as the man who transcribed his words. It is unclear exactly who “Christopher Miller Fitz Gerald” was in relation to David Bevier, but it is fascinating to notice the seemingly Latin influence he used to ornament his name. Unfortunately my research has not shown that this tendency was common, and this fact stands as another distinguishing element of the Orderly Book in our Collection.


We do know, however, that in addition to his post as an orderly at Fort Montgomery, David Bevier was also owner of the now popular Bevier House in Marbletown during the Revolution. Andries Pieterse Van Leuvan built the house in the 17th century, and it is now open to the public as the Bevier House Museum. It is praised for its colonial Dutch architecture, but moreover, for its role during the War for Independence. David Bevier’s house was reportedly the first “safe house,” just six miles outside the city, following the burning of Kingston by the British on October 13th, 1777. According to current Museum Director, Suzanne Hauspurg, “Kingston residents fled the city as the British army entered it. The Bevier house was the closest private home outside the city.” The story is that David Bevier returned home in October (most likely from his post at Fort Montgomery) to find his yard full of people. His wife, Maria, had apparently been feeding and caring for the Kingston residents for three days. The story of the Bevier House, which now also serves as home to the Ulster County Historical Society, is a reminder that the revolution impacted mid-Hudson Valley communities (rather than the soldiers alone) in almost every way imaginable.

In light of the rarity of orderly books as beautifully composed and descriptive as this, HHS is very pleased to feature the Orderly Book of David Bevier in its upcoming exhibit. Be sure to stop by and take a look at this, and other intriguing Archival pieces (as well as the assortment of war-time artifacts) that are included in “By the Grace of God, Free and Independent:’ The Revolutionary War in Ulster County.” The exhibit is located in the DuBois Fort Visitor Center and is open until August 2. We hope that our visitors enjoy looking at the history of the Revolutionary War as it unfolded in Ulster County, and subsequently learn more about the local people, places, and objects that experienced it firsthand.



Gibbons, Ann. “Bevier House history set in stone.” Daily Freeman News, 26 Feb. 2012. Web. 18 June 2015.

Robertson, John K., and Bob McDonald. A Brief Profile of Orderly Books. N.p., 2005. Web. 18 June 2015.

On Display: “By the Grace of God, Free and Independent:” The Revolutionary War in Ulster County

“By the Grace of God, Free and Independent:”
The Revolutionary War in Ulster County
Exhibition by the Curatorial Department
Through August 2, 2015

The Historic Huguenot Street Curatorial Department has developed a new exhibit in honor of the upcoming Independence Day. On display now in the DuBois Fort Visitor Center (81 Huguenot Street), “’By the Grace of God, Free and Independent:’ The Revolutionary War in Ulster County” features a selection of Revolutionary War-era documents and objects from the Historic Huguenot Street Archives and Permanent Collection.

“The Hudson Valley played a pivotal role during the Revolutionary War,” explained Curator Josephine Bloodgood. The presence of highly productive farmland and the trading network established on the Hudson River meant commanders on both sides of the conflict considered the area essential and made significant effort to control it. These efforts were felt not only in decisive battles such as Saratoga or Yorktown, but also in the daily life of Ulster County residents, which can be seen in the records they left behind. Items on display include selected personal effects of Lieutenant Colonel Johannes Jansen, Jr., an orderly book from Fort Montgomery in 1776, a bicorne hat, and New York State paper currency.

This exhibit is free and open to the public, now through Sunday, August 2. The DuBois Fort Visitor Center is open Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and weekends, 10 am – 5 pm; and Fridays 10 am — 8 pm.

By the Grace of God, Free and Independent

By the Grace of God, Free and Independent

By the Grace of God, Free and Independent

Fashion Plate

By Lily Kaar

This week, HHS presents an outfit! This three-piece ensemble of skirt, blouse, and jacket is likely from the early 1880s, based on the “Natural Form” style of bustle on the skirt. Each piece is primarily made of geometrically striped grey cotton and trimmed with black velvet ribbon and beige fringe. The blouse and jacket have been left open on the mannequin as, due to the tailoring of the garments, they would not have successfully buttoned. Since our mannequin is about five feet tall with a 25 inch waist, it shows how much the ladies of the time were corseting themselves.

HHS 3 Piece Ensemble

HHS 3 Piece Ensemble

The bustle skirt became one of the most iconic styles of the late 19th century. Although it’s not terribly obvious, looking at some of the more extravagant styles of skirt—some of which required support structures of stiffened horsehair or steel hoops underneath—the bustle was an attempt to simplify the dress of the ladies. Up until the 1860s, women wore circular crinolines and hoopskirts under their dresses, which grew in size until they began to pose an obstacle to daily life. After that, women’s crinolines started becoming more oval, shifting the bulk of the fabric to the back, so they could maintain their fabulous skirts and still be able to reach doorknobs—or the gentleman they were dancing with. A few refinements and reductions of the fashionable silhouette later, and the bustle as we know it was born.

Once you enter the “Bustle Era” of the late 1860s to the late 1880s, you find that there are three very distinct types of bustle that come into and pass out of fashion within that time. The first bustle to grow out of the oval hoopskirts (called “First Bustle,” appropriately enough) kept much of the structure of those garments. Dresses were supported by a gently sloping rigid underskirt with metal hoops, including a hoop at the bottom to kick out the hem of the skirt. From there, the mid-1870s switched to the “Natural Form” bustle; they removed the extra undergarment and narrowed the skirts to let them lay closer to the figure, but played with adding trains and extra decoration. By the early 1880s, the last bustle style appeared which added the supportive undergarment back into the ensemble. “Second Bustle” relied on the shelf bustle, so called because it extended almost perpendicular from the back. Skirts lost their trains except for very formal affairs, and the emphasis lay on the piled poufs at the hip line and bum area of the skirts.

HHS 3 Piece Ensemble

The Bustle Era owes many of its hallmarks to the Industrial Revolution that was thriving at the time. While machine-produced textiles and trims were already a major business, this was when sewing machines were first sold to the general public. Since the machines not only produced a fine, even stitch, but also drastically reduced the time needed to sew a garment, it became fashionable to add tons of decorations to one’s outfit. Many bustle skirts, such as this one, had layers of flounces, pleats, and ruffles, often further decorated with machine-made braid, ribbon, or fringe.

HHS 3 Piece Ensemble

Of course, very few garments were finished exclusively by machine. Early sewing machines could only do very simple stitches, and so anything fancy had to be done by hand. It is not uncommon to see garments with both machine and hand stitching, like the interior of the jacket shows above. The seam on the left was sewn by hand, where the seam on the right was machine-sewn.

“Once A Child Like Me”

By Lily Kaar

This week, Historic Huguenot Street presents a needlework sampler, completed by Elizabeth Franklin “in her 7th year.” The sampler itself is 16 inches long and 10 inches wide, framed with a 2 1/2 inch border. The entire sampler is cross-stitched — embroidery that makes a small ‘x’-shaped stitch — and features both upper case and lower case alphabets, numbers, decorative elements, and a short poem. The poem, though now aged, once read:

The Saviour who in glory reigns
Who made the earth and sea
Whose arm unnumbered worlds sustains
Was once a child like me

He stoop’d so low that I might rise
To dwell with him above
Lord send thy spirit from the skies
To teach a child thy LOVE

Franklin Sampler

Samplers, especially from the 18th and 19th centuries, are an interesting kind of historical record. Young girls received only the barest amount of academic schooling, usually reading, writing, and basic arithmetic, before their instruction moved onto more ‘feminine’ subjects, such as etiquette, music, and sewing. These girls grew up with the expectation that they would take over the production and mending of the clothes and linens of their future families. As part of their schooling, they would make samplers such as this one, called “marking samplers”.

Marking samplers served multiple purposes: they taught young girls the alphabet and basic numbers, but also taught basic embroidery and gave a space to practice. Many times small poems or phrases from the bible were also included as part of her moral education. That Elizabeth completed hers at age seven is not uncommon; most basic samplers such as this one were started before the girl was ten, and could be started as young as age five. If a girl was lucky (and rich) enough to continue her education at a boarding school for young ladies, she would make a second, more decorative sampler. These usually featured more complex stitches and colors, and were hung in public areas of the home for display.

Elizabeth did a fairly good job on her sampler; all the stitches are very even, and each letter is legibly formed. You can see a few places where she ran out of space in a line and had to bunch up her words in the margin.

Samplers are a great find for record-keeping, since it’s possible that these decorated pieces of cloth are one of very few — or even the only — physical record an 18th century woman might have left.

Franklin Sampler Detail

Franklin Sampler Detail