A Spicy History

By Jillian Heller

At Historic Huguenot Street, we have a large collection of kitchen items. One object that we have is a late 19th century wooden circular box containing several spice jars. Today, we have our own updated and condensed versions of these spice holders in our cabinets and drawers at home. However, spices have a history much richer than from the 1800s to now. Spices can be dated back to the 3rd millennium B.C. and had uses far beyond cooking. In fact, the demand for spices had been so intense that it led to great things like power, wealth, and colonization. We owe a lot more of our presence in the United States than we realize to the significance of spices.

Our object of the week is a round polished wooden container with a metal band on the bottom and a lid on top. Along the side of the vessel is the label “SPICES”. Once opened, one is overwhelmed with a beautiful historic aroma. Immediately, the various seasonings fill your lungs and it transports you to inside the kitchen of the Jean Hasbrouck House. Inside the box, there are eight spice jars. These are also round and wooden with metal bands at the top and bottom with lids, in the same style of the container. The center spice jar is larger than the rest and placed in the center, labeled “PEPPER.” The other spices are mace, all spice, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, mustard, and nutmeg. These smaller jars are placed in a circular surrounding the pepper.




We have similar, more modern collections of the same spices in all of our kitchens today. This 19th century spice holder can exemplify how continuous spices have been of common use in North America. However, the use of spices goes back extremely further to about 3500 B.C. in Ancient Egypt. Through archaeological evidence and what we know today, spices have been essential in shaping the modern world.

Throughout history, spices have been very valuable items that could be used in various ways. They did much more than flavor foods, as opposed to what we mostly use them for today. All around the world, spices were implemented in numerous practices and over thousands of years.

Since spices were so useful, they were always in demand. Therefore, there was a huge market for trading spices. From Ancient Egypt, to Asia, to Mesopotamia, to Europe, spices spread globally. Around 2000 B.C. spices were controlled and monopolized by the Arabs. Merchants caravanned by donkeys and camels throughout the Middle East and South Asia. Spices were so valued that large amounts of gold and silver were traded to obtain them. After the first century, Rome disturbed the Arab monopoly and established a direct trade with India via the Red Sea. From here, spices exploded even more. Once the Romans had a constant source, Europe could not get enough of it. From the 18th until the 15th century, the trade relation made Italian city-states rich. An estimated over 2,000 tons of spices were imported to Western Europe yearly during the late Middle Ages.

Not surprisingly, other European countries wanted to find their own sources for spices and pay less money. This could only be accomplished by exploring the waters and hopefully finding a new place of export. In 1492, Christopher Columbus, with the support of Spain, set out to search for a shorter water route for black pepper and cinnamon. He intended to arrive in Japan to establish a new trade route, however, he landed in the Bahamas archipelago named “San Salvador.” This is how the New World was exposed to the Europeans. In turn, Columbus’s contact with the Americas forever changed the course of Modern history. He continued to return with four voyages in total. These trips signified the beginning of European Exploration and the start of the colonization of the Americas. In the next two hundred years, colonies spread throughout the western hemisphere, particularly in North America by the French, Dutch, and English. These settlements evolved and gave way to the American frontier.

Although a long and far journey, it is evident that the importance of spices led to the settling of the New World and is a large reason modern day America exists. The need for spices stemmed from its abundant set of uses. The huge demand crazed the old world over trade and wealth. It is difficult to imagine when the New World would have been colonized if Columbus never searched for new spice routes. This is why it was hard for me to overlook the wooden circular spice container in our collection here at Historic Huguenot Street. These 19th century seasonings provide insight for understanding our origins. It is incredible to think that something we use everyday on our food, has been such a constant throughout our world history.


HISTORY OF SPICE TRADE.” Medicinal Spices Exhibit – UCLA Biomedical Library: History & Special Collections. UCLA, n.d. Web. 28 Oct. 2015.

History of Spices.” McCormick Science Institute. McCormick Science Institute, n.d. Web. 28 Oct. 2015.

Sánchez, Elsa S., and Kathleen M. Kelley. “Herb and Spice History.” Home Lawn and Garden (Penn State Extension). Penn State University, n.d. Web. 28 Oct. 2015.

Whipps, Heather. “How the Spice Trade Changed the World.” LiveScience. TechMedia Network, 12 May 2008. Web. 28 Oct. 2015.


The Evolution of Dutch Delft Tiles

By Chloe Baker

Dutch Delft tiles are a unique example of colonial Dutch art that was both decorative and practical in purpose. The tiles themselves were produced by rolling clay into slabs, firing the slabs, then applying a thick glaze.1 A defining factor separating the Delft tiles from others is that the Dutch style included artistic representations of figures painted on the tiles. The scenes characteristic of these tiles depict images of animals, mythological creatures, and artifacts that were likely to have appeared in ordinary Dutch villages, such as windmills, houses or boats. The tiles often portrayed different characters such as men, women, children, and even fishermen. Most of the tiles are colored blue to imitate the style of Chinese porcelain, which had become popular as a result of Dutch trade with China.2 The tiles were popular household items, and were often used in houses by chimneys, or less frequently displayed on walls, corridors, staircases, and kitchens. The painters who decorated the tiles were not typically famous artists, but apprentices who relied on the teachings of their masters.





The paintings depicted on the tiles are rudimentary compared to modern day designs, yet elegant in their simplicity. The humble yet definitive line strokes is reminiscent of a simpler era, one of villages and towns, fishermen, little children playing games, and swans elegantly sitting atop still water. The designs found on Dutch tiles were the result of a honed artistic process, the first step of which involved forming the tiles out of clay, after which a pin would be used to sketch a pattern on the tile—a process referred to by the Dutch as spons. The patterns on the tiles were then covered with charcoal, which was eventually painted onto the tile in a process known as “treck.” The final step involved shading for an end result of a plain yet sophisticated set of tiles. Despite the definitive artistic process involved in the creation of Delft tiles, the tiles did not evolve into a luxury item, and  instead remained accessible to most of the middle class population in colonial Dutch society.3

As Dutch Delftware increased in popularity, the English began to incorporate the Dutch painting style into their tiles as well. As demand grew, the production of Delft tiles ceased to take the form of a specialized enterprise between master and apprentice, but instead was manufactured in factories, the most famous of which were based in Bristol and Liverpool. Eventually the Dutch followed suit and began to produce their own tiles in factories.4 The tiles became so greatly popular that after an embargo was levied against the importation of goods into Britain, the Delft tiles were still distributed in and out of the country.  In the colonies, there are references to Dutch tiles in Boston before the Revolutionary War, advertising: “All sorts of Dutch Tyle viz, Scripture, (round and square), Lankskips of divers sorts.”5 Although within a period of twenty years, the same paper printed an advertisement for: “English Chimney Tiles.” In 1762, it was reported that the tiles contained “red & white, and blue & white English Chimney Tiles.”6 This demonstrates the evolution of Dutch Tile production from small scale and individual enterprise to one of mass production. In the colonies, Delft tiles became an expensive item as authentic copies could only be imported from Britain.7 The tiles were usually utilized in the colonies for more decorative rather than practical purposes, covering fireplace openings and adopting the name “chimney tiles.”8 Historic Huguenot Street holds a number of these tiles in our permanent collection. These particular tiles are part of a larger set of 17 from the estate of Miss Phyllis DuBois. They date to between 1650 and 1750.

1 van Lemmen, Hans. Delftware Tiles. Oxford: Shire Publications Ltd, 2010. 6. Print.

2 Honey, W. B. “Dutch Pottery and Glass.” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs. Vol. 81, No. 477. London: Burlington Magazine Publications Ltd., Dec. 1942. 295. Print.

3 van Lemmen. 8.

4 Beaman, Thomas, Jr. “‘Some Fragments Of Blue Dutch Tiling’ at Brunswick Town: Decorative Delftware Tiles from Russellborough, Prospect Hall, and The Public House.” North Carolina Archaeology 26 (1997). 295.

5 Hume, Ivor Noël. A Guide to Artifacts of Colonial America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc., 2001. 287. Print.

6 Ibid.

7 Beaman. 295.

8 Ibid.

Miniature Portraits by John Carlin

By Ashley Montevago

This week’s object is a set of portrait miniatures of Henry Cornelius Hasbrouck (1839-1910) and Mary E. Hasbrouck (1811-1907) painted by John Carlin (1813- 1891). The miniatures are both watercolor paintings on ivory which have been glued to white paper. One painting is held in a red leather case with gold hooks; it has red velvet on the inside left and the image of the young Henry Hasbrouck on the other side. There is an inscription in pencil on the back that reads, “Henry Hasbrouck/aged 4 years old/ Oct. 1843/by J. Carlin, a mute.” Henry Hasbrouck was 4 years old when the painting was created in October of 1843. His big blue eyes and white ruffled shirt makes him seem almost angelic. There is an inscription on the back of the other watercolor that reads, “Mrs Mary E Hasbrouck/By J Carlin, a mute/ Oct. 1843”. This watercolor is similar to Henry’s, inside a brown leather case with red velvet. Before the development of photography, hand-painted portrait miniatures were popular among the families who could afford them. Historic Huguenot Street has several of these portrait miniatures painted by John Carlin.





John Carlin was born in Philadelphia in 1813; he was a painter who specialized in portrait miniatures early in his career.  Carlin was a “pioneering deaf painter, writer, poet, and public sign-speaker. The success of Carlin’s colorful and detailed portraits allowed him to campaign successfully for the advanced education of deaf people in the United States.”1 Born deaf, Carlin was unable to communicate with his parents and was left to wander the streets of Philadelphia alone. A man named David Seixas, merchant and philanthropist, found Carlin on the streets and brought him to his specialized school in the 1820s. Carlin excelled at the Mount Airy School (now the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf), where he learned sign language, how to read and write and also how to paint, which he was most interested in. He graduated from the Pennsylvania Institution for the Deaf in 1825.

Carlin did not let his disabilities stand in the way of his life making his success truly remarkable. At the age of 12 he was able to support himself after graduation by painting houses and signs. In his spare time he continued to study and at the age of 19 he had mastered five foreign languages. Carlin took classes with artists such as John Neagle and John Rubens Smith in portrait painting, which eventually led to his own studio being opened in December 1834. Carlin traveled throughout Europe, studied art at the British Museum in London and under other artists in Paris. When he returned to America in 1941, he set up a studio in New York City.

According to Amy Spencer, “he [Carlin] returned to his work as a portraitist specializing in miniatures on ivory. Some of his first patrons were among prominent families of New York and through these connections he became friends with prominent figures such as Jefferson Davis, First Lady Jane Pierce, and political advisor Thurlow Weed. Between 1841 and 1850, Carlin completed nearly two thousand miniatures.”2

Connecting this back to the paintings held at HHS, it is definite Carlin created the portrait miniatures of young Henry Hasbrouck and Mary Hasbrouck in his New York City studio; perhaps Carlin even traveled to New Paltz to do a live sketch. Knowing these portrait miniatures in the Historic Huguenot Street collections are two of the nearly two thousand he created is an honorable gift – a few years after these were painted, Carlin stopped creating such works due to the rise of photography, making these much more special.

1 Spencer, Amy. “John Carlin (1813–1891).” Questroyal Fine Art, LLC. Web. 7 Oct. 2015.

2 Ibid.