Category Archives: 18th Century

Jane Austen

England recently released a new ten-pound note, featuring beloved author Jane Austen. She will become the second woman only to the Queen to grace the front of an English bank note, which is clear evidence in her continuing fandom and the enduring interest in her work.

The author of the classics Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Northanger Abbey published her work anonymously and did not claim notoriety until her siblings took it upon themselves to publish two previously unprinted books following her death. It was, therefore, not until the mid-19th century that she gained widespread notability. Continue reading Jane Austen

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Mum Bett and the Freedom Suit (Elizabeth Freeman)

Elizabeth Freeman, first known as Mum Bett or Mumbet, was born around 1742 to African parents who were enslaved by Pieter Hogeboom in Claverack, New York. Hogeboom’s daughter Hannah married Col. John Ashley of Sheffield, Massachusetts, and Bett, most likely inherited by Hannah in 1758, moved to their household.

The story of her leaving the Ashley household varies. They state that Hannah, in an angry fit, tried to hit Bett’s younger sister Lizzie with a heated kitchen shovel. Bett, stood in the way and was hit instead, causing a deep wound. Bett left, and refused to come back. When Col. Ashley asked the law to bring back his “property,” Bett contacted lawyer Theodore Sedgwick. Stories recount that when Sedgwick inquired as to how she got the idea that she deserved to be free, she said “By keepin’ still and mindin’ things.” Continue reading Mum Bett and the Freedom Suit (Elizabeth Freeman)

Catharine Montour

Who was Catharine Montour? No one really knows. We know that she was an Iroquois woman with a white great-grandfather. We know that she lived in what is now Upstate New York sometime between 1710 and 1804. After that, the stories get confusing, but her legacy lives on.

Her grandmother was also named Catharine Montour, and history often conflates the two. Not to mention all the Noble Savage, or just plain savage, tales that grew up around the younger Catharine. Continue reading Catharine Montour

Mary Somerville: A Passion for Science

Mary Somerville was born in Scotland on Dec. 26, 1780, and had four supreme passions in her life: her family, equality for women, science, and birds.

Described as feminine in manner and appearance, as a girl she never cared for dolls. Her mother said she would have been content if Mary had “only learnt to write well and keep accounts which was all that a woman was expected to know.” Mary, however, had a talent for mathematics. She taught herself by listening in on her brother as he was tutored in geometry and by reading Euclid. Continue reading Mary Somerville: A Passion for Science

Dora Jordan

If I had a chance to have lunch with anyone living or dead I would most certainly chose to have it with Dora Jordan, one of Western history’s most famous comics who graced the British stage for forty years. Not only would she make me laugh, I would uncover some mysteries about her that have persisted for the past two hundred years.

Dora was born in Ireland to a pair of theater folks around 1761. It’s not known for certain if her father was a stagehand or an actor but it is known that when Dora was thirteen, he abandoned his family for a young actress and left them destitute. Fortunately, Dora took to the stage and acted until she was fifty-four, earning around one hundred thousand pounds (approximately 7 million dollars). Continue reading Dora Jordan

Jeanne Baret

Jeanne Baret (or Barré or Baré) was the first woman to circumnavigate the world, but she was also a talented botanist with a passion for plants.

Jeanne Baret was born to a humble farming family in France in 1740. Not too much is known about her childhood, but at some point young Jeanne developed a keen interest in plants. As she grew older she learnt all she could about the healing properties of different plants and soon became a ‘herb woman’, treating people’s ailments with nature’s medicine. Continue reading Jeanne Baret

Elizabeth Raffald: The Original Domestic Goddess and Georgian Celebrity Chef

Elizabeth Raffald was a superwoman of her day; an author, innovator, investor and benefactor for the people of Manchester in the mid 18th century, just before industrialization gripped the town. From poor origins she rose to be a housekeeper at Arley Hall but on coming to Manchester in 1763 she began a formidable body of work to benefit the town.  A vital and enterprising woman, her achievements were amazing in their scope and variety. Continue reading Elizabeth Raffald: The Original Domestic Goddess and Georgian Celebrity Chef