Friday, March 16, 2018

Let's Bat That Around

A craze swept 1875 Seattle, a game of skill and stamina dating from ancient times. It was played from the fine houses on the hill to the logging camps in the woods. The game you ask?

Battledore and shuttlecock.

Likely the forerunner of badminton and popular in India and China, battledore and shuttlecock was far simpler. All one needed to play was a small racket made of wood either covered with parchment or strung with gut (the battledore) and a cork stuck with feathers (the shuttlecock). One could play alone, but it was commonly played in pairs.

The idea was to keep the shuttlecock in the air as long as possible, so you needed to take into account the height and reach of your partner and well as your own. You might also consider the wind, which could catch the shuttlecock and send it spinning away. Supposedly the record for number of hits in the nineteenth century was set in Somerset, England, at more than 2,000 times!

Battledore and shuttlecock was a children’s game during Regency England and well into the late 1800s. Jane Austen played the game with her nephews. As I was looking for pictures to accompany this blog, I stumbled across this one dating from the 1700s:

Supposedly, the satirical cartoon makes fun of ladies' fashions with feathers and hooped skirts. I couldn’t help wondering if there was a deeper meaning. Russia and England playing with France, for example?

Even though England embraced badminton beginning in the early 1870s and the game eventually made its way to America, battledore and shuttlecock remained popular on the frontier for some time.

I’ll give you something else that might be popular on the frontier—I’m guest blogging today on Petticoats and Pistols, a blog devoted to romancing the West, yesterday and today. Stop by and say hi. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Regency Fabrics, Part 18

Here’s another post in our ongoing series on Regency fabrics.

As I have in previous posts, I’ll be examining actual fabric samples glued into several earlier editions of Ackermann’s Repository, samples supplied by the manufacturers and published by Ackermann in order to boost the British cloth-making industry at a time when exporting British goods to Europe was almost impossible because of the Napoleonic war. I'll give you a close-up scan of each sample, the published description if available, and my own observations of the color, weight, condition, and similarity to present-day materials, to give you as close a picture as possible of what these fabrics are like.

Today’s three samples are from the March 1811 issue of Ackermann’s Repository. The overall condition of my copy is excellent: the page has been trimmed but is otherwise free of foxing and toning, and the fabric samples themselves appear to be in fine shape.

Here we go!

Nos. 1 and 2. A bright permanent morone printed cambric, calculated for the intermediate order of dress. This print will admit of repeated washing, without any detriment to its colours. Round dresses and wraps in this article should be constructed quite plain, or with lace cuffs and frills. It is sold by Messrs. Jones and Co. 179, Piccadilly.

My comments: I’m always fascinated by these print fabrics, because so few are shown in the dresses illustrated in the fashion prints often in the same issue; as much as I adore them for the eye candy they are, I have to conclude they aren’t as representative as we sometimes take them for. This cambric reminds me of cross between a modern quilting cotton and a chintz. The dye is a rich, slightly orange-ish red, almost as intense on the back of the fabric as the front; the printing is a little sloppy on close examination, but passes well enough.

No. 3. A green figured shot sarsnet, adapted for robes, spencers, pelisses, and mantles. The trimmings appropriate to this article are, fancy Chinese floss, Indian gimp, and thread lace. Jewellery ornaments must consist of diamonds, pearl, satin bead, or white cornelian. Sold by D. and R. Hodges, Henrietta-street, Covent-Garden.

My comments: I think I would have been a sarsnet fiend had I lived in 1811, though I'm not sure I could have supplied the diamonds that must be worn with this particular fabric. ☺ This is lovely stuff, beautifully silky in texture and with enough weight lent by the twill weave that it would drape beautifully as a dress. It seems perhaps a little light in weight for a pelisse or mantle, though I assume such garments would be made with a lining to add substance. The green is a little lighter than it might seem; the contrasting sheen of the off-white threads makes it appear a little darker.

No. 4. A beautiful regency shot sarsnet, a most fashionable article, for the same purposes as described in No. 3. The regency helmet cap, composed of white velvet or satin, and ornamented with the Prince’s plumes of white feathers, is an appropriate and  becoming head-dress with robes of this attractive material. It is furnished by Joseph Snuggs, 20, Henrietta-street, Covent-Garden.

My comments: Yup, totally a sarsnet fan here. This cream-colored sample is a little stiffer than No. 3, but of a similar weight and just as delightful to the touch. This fabric in particular would make a gorgeous gown!

Any thoughts on this month’s fabrics?

Friday, March 9, 2018

Four Little Known Facts about Wallin Landing

As I prepare to say goodbye to Wallin Landing, the setting for my Frontier Bachelors series, I thought you might like to know a few secrets as about the town. Here then are little known facts about the setting:

  1. It wasn’t originally intended to be. When I first started the Frontier Bachelors series, I had envisioned telling the stories of several of the Mercer Belles, those ladies from the East Coast who traveled west with Asa Mercer to civilize pioneer Seattle following the Civil War. But in the second book, Would-Be Wilderness Wife, I fell in love with the Wallin family and the little town they were trying to build on the shores of Lake Union. And so, what was originally planned to be a three-book series grew into an eight-book saga as each of the Wallin siblings met their match.
  1. The stories about it span nearly a decade. So that I could plausibly write about the last three siblings, two of whom were in their teens in Would-Be Wilderness Wife, I had to expand the timeline as well. The books now span from January 1866 to April 1875. Seattle grew by leaps and bounds during that time. So did Wallin Landing.
  1. The town grew with the books. If you’ve read the series, you’ve probably already noticed this one. With the advent of Frontier Matchmaker Bride, the little town has a post office (run by James Wallin), school (with Rina Wallin, his wife, teacher and Dottie Wallin, John’s wife, assistant), church (with Levi Wallin the minister), dispensary (run by Catherine Wallin, Drew’s wife), and general store (James again). Individuals serve the function of blacksmith (John Wallin), seamstress (Nora Wallin, Simon’s wife), music teacher (Callie Wallin, Levi’s wife), and medical professional (Catherine) besides farmer (Simon Wallin) and logger (Drew Wallin). Simon Wallin might even be called an architect of sorts. 
  1. Wallin Landing isn’t Wallingford. There is a neighborhood in Seattle called Wallingford. It is actually the location Pa Wallin wanted to build his town originally. I picture the town of Wallin Landing in the Westlake/East Queen Anne area of the Seattle area instead, across the lake and to the west of Wallingford.
Finally, I’m getting lots of mail from readers asking whether I will return to Wallin Landing one day. I hope so. A certain family friend needs to find his happily-ever-after, and there’s Gillian Howard, Ciara and Aiden O’Rourke, Frisco and Sutter Murphy, and the Wallin children who will need spouses in a few years. However, my current publisher is ending its historical romance line, and other publishers are notoriously leery of taking on a series started elsewhere.

This industry has taught me to beware of saying “never.” Things changes, rights are reverted, readers clamor for more. Wallin Landing will be sitting on the shores of Lake Union, waiting.

And so will I.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Matchmaker Meets Her Match?

It’s always sad to let a series go, but I’m delighted to send off Frontier Bachelors, and my time with Love Inspired Historical, with the story of Beth Wallin. Spunky Beth has cheered her brothers on, and kicked them in the behind, while they courted and married. Those of you who have been following the books may have noticed, however, that Beth has a secret. She’s been reacting strangely the last couple of books to her long-time crush, Deputy Hart McCormick. Here’s why:

She’d just turned one-and-twenty and had filed for her claim. That was what was expected of her, choosing one hundred and sixty acres that would augment the town her family was building at the northern end of Lake Union. She was proud to do it.

She was too proud.

She saw that now. A young lady on the frontier might accomplish much at such an important age—file for her own claim, pursue a career.

She didn’t have to look far. She’d admired Deputy Sheriff Hart McCormick since she was fourteen and he’d ridden out to Wallin Landing the first time. Tall, handsome, worldly even at the age of four-and-twenty then, he’d been the embodiment of the heroes in the romantic adventure novels their father had left her and her brothers. He was the knight Ivanhoe, fighting to save England; the dashing John Alden petitioning the fair Priscilla Mullins to wed. She’d smiled and primped and giggled at him every time he came near. He never seemed to notice.

But when she turned one-and-twenty, she became determined to make him notice. She was certain God had a plan for her life, and it included Hart McCormick. She just needed to give God a little help in moving things along.

She’d dressed in her best gown, a vivid blue with white piping, styled her pale blond curls to spill down behind her. She’d borrowed her brother James’s famous steel dusts and driven the horses in to Seattle to tell Hart how she felt. It hadn’t been hard to locate him. Then as now, Seattle consisted of a few business streets hugging the shoreline with residences and churches on the hillside above, backed by the forest from which they’d been carved. She could scarcely breathe when he’d agreed to walk with her. They’d passed the Brown Church when she’d stopped him, gazing up into his dark eyes.

“I admire you far more than any lady should,” she’d said, voice ringing in her ears. “I don’t suppose you might feel the same.”

He’d gazed down at her a moment, and she’d thought she would slide into the mud of the street, her bones had turned so liquid. She waited for his gaze to warm, his arms to go about her, his lips to profess his undying devotion. That was what happened in her father’s novels. That was the way she’d always dreamed it would be for her.

He’d tipped his black hat to her instead. “That’s mighty kind of you to say, Miss Wallin. But I have no interest in courting you. Best you go on home now.”


So, you can imagine Beth’s chagrin when the most important ladies in Seattle seek her out for her matchmaking skills and ask her to find Hart McCormick a bride.

Hart also has a secret, one that keeps him from ever giving his heart again. He may be Beth’s first matchmaking miss, unless they can both admit that she just might be his perfect match.

You can find Frontier Matchmaker Bride in print and e-book at fine retailers such as

An independent bookstore near you 
The Book Depository, free shipping worldwide 

Friday, March 2, 2018

Nineteenth Century Heroines: Taking Center Stage

File:The Old Bowery Theatre (NYPL b13476046-420759).jpgWhen Asa Mercer went east after the Civil War to entice young ladies to come west, he told them they would be bringing culture to the frontier. But the Mercer Belles I write about in my Frontier Bachelors series weren’t the only ones to make the rough-and-tumble West more civilized. This week’s nineteenth century heroine played a large role, in more ways than one.

Fanny Morgan Phelps was born in Sydney, New South Wales. We aren’t entirely sure when, but she had already made her American debut at Maguire’s Opera House in San Francisco in 1863 as an established actress under her maiden name of Morgan. She was tall and pretty, with an impressive figure and a commanding presence. Her contemporaries called her an Amazon, and some men found themselves so upstaged by her that they refused to play opposite lest she show them up.

Fanny could not only act but sing, specializing at first in shorter plays that highlighted her comedic talents. Reviewers did not seem to know how to take her, for she was called Irish, Australian, and Scottish at various times. Take this piece from the New York Clipper (courtesy of Music in Gotham: The New York Scene 1862-75) when she played at the Bowery Theatre in 1867: 
In personal appearance she is very prepossessing, and she has the power of covering up the deficiencies of those around her by her admirable rendition of characters in which she appears. Her singing is invariably encored…Her style is free, natural, and full of spirit, and at once wins the favor of her audiences.
Sometime during her first California performances, she met Ralph Phelps, a light comedian, who appears to have been some years her senior. He had debuted in New York 1845 and travelled to California in 1854. By the time Fanny joined the Ward Company in Victoria, British Territories, in 1863, she had married Phelps.

For the next 3 years, Fanny was the star of the company, delighting audiences with most of her performances (although a comedy that poked fun of Westerners was not well received, particularly as those in Victoria saw themselves as more educated, enlightened, and sophisticated than the frontiersmen in the Puget Sound area). Ralph was the theatre manager. But as depression loomed in the area, Ward decided to move his company to Portland. Fanny went along.

She didn’t stay there. She was willing to go wherever audiences had a yearning for the theatre. She played what were considered the smaller towns in the Puget Sound area at the time—Seattle and Port Gamble among them. She played at the larger Olympia, the state capital. In 1872, she is recorded as taking part in a benefit in Hawaii. One of the reasons the frontiersmen loved her was that she was willing to come where they were.

Sources say she leased the Theatre Royal in Victoria in 1874 for 11 months, under her own troupe called the Fanny Morgan Phelps Company. But I know she was touring during at least part of that time, for local papers herald her arrival in Seattle, where she staged the first full-length Shakespearean play ever seen in that frontier town, The Taming of the Shrew, on March 15, 1874, at Yesler’s Hall. In the upcoming Frontier Matchmaker Bride, Beth Wallin and Deputy Hart McCormick attend one of her performances. She stared in several plays before travelling north again. Popular actress Annie Pixley (at the left) shared the stage with her.

Along the way she lost Ralph but gained a daughter who she boarded out with a family near Vancouver. She later married a captain of the Royal Navy.

Fanny Morgan Phelps died in San Francisco in 1901, one of the most famous thespians of the West Coast. It was a role she was born to play.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Children of George III: Augusta

A sister (finally!) for the Princess Royal joined the royal nurseries at Buckingham House on November 8, 1768 in the form of Princess Augusta Sophia, much to the King and Queen’s pleasure.

By all accounts Augusta was a shy child; all the royal children lived sequestered lives, interacting only with members of the royal household. She (and in time her younger sister Elizabeth, to whom she would be close) shared their elder sister’s education at their mother’s knee, studying both academic and more “womanly” accomplishments—lessons which Augusta sometimes shirked in order to keep up a lively correspondence with her elder brothers, whom she dearly loved.  Like the Princess Royal, as she came to adulthood Augusta was a victim both of the political circumstances of the time and of her father’s unwillingness to lose any of his daughters to a foreign marriage. Augusta, who was reckoned quite good-looking by all accounts (her portraits are all charming) received proposals from both the King of Denmark and the Prince of Sweden—both of whom were rejected.

In 1799, when Augusta was 31, the King appointed a new aide-de-camp, an Anglo-Irish general who had served under Augusta’s brother the Duke of York. General Sir Brent Spencer made a strong impression not only on the king, but on his daughter. They seem to have fallen thoroughly in love; in fact, Spencer broke off his engagement to another young woman that summer. Over the next several years they maintained their affection, a period in which Spencer served under fire with high distinction in several military campaigns (and drove poor Augusta mad with worry.) When the king made his final descent into incapacity, Augusta evidently had very serious discussions with her big brother, the Prince Regent, as to whether she and Spencer might be able to contract a “private marriage.”

Unfortunately, the years of dealing with the King’s controlling behavior and his erratic health had soured the temper of the Queen, who continued to cling to her unmarried daughters even while behaving with capricious coldness to them; though legally Augusta could have received her brother's permission to marry, her filial feelings toward the Queen probably made her decide against such a course. Nevertheless, rumors abounded that they had indeed married, and on his death in 1828 Spencer was holding a miniature of Augusta.

And so Augusta lived her quiet life—she was a noted gardener in particular—much loved by all her siblings. She kept up that correspondence with them that she'd begun in childhood as well as with other friends (many former members of the royal household) that show her to have had a lively intelligence and a clear-eyed but kindly appreciation of their faults and foibles. She remained on good terms with Prinny when he became king, and was a favorite of William and his queen Adelaide.  She died in 1840 at the age of 71, a few months after attending the wedding of her beloved niece, Victoria, who seems to also have regarded her aunt with great affection.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Cool 19th Century Places to Visit: Second Bank of the United States, Philadelphia

People who love history throng to Philadelphia to ogle the Liberty Bell and tour Independence Hall. But there’s a little-known gem just a block or so away for those whose hearts belong to the nineteenth century. The Second Bank of the United States houses a portrait gallery with wonderful paintings from the late 1700s and early 1800s. And the building itself harkens to the pillared halls of the Regency.

The Second Bank was built in the Greek Revival style, beginning in 1819. It was completed in 1824. When I visited 18 months ago, I saw a number of style choices that reminded me of early nineteenth century England. For example, this window still uses the interior shutters visible in such notable mansions as Apsley House in London.

And doesn’t the pink passage near the main portrait display look just like the entryway to an aristocrat’s town house?

The portraits themselves are marvelous, depicting dress and accessories of the time. The hat!

Many of the portaits are by local artist Charles Willson Peale, who painted people he felt exemplified a self-sacrificing nature and were strong civic supporters. Some of the individuals are government or business leaders, but there is more than one lady in the bunch. Other portraits are by his son Rembrandt (Charles took his painting seriously, apparently), brother James, and British artists James and Ellen Sharples.

There’s another set of Regency paintings at the Second Bank, but I doubt many find it. The stone steps in front prohibit accessibility, so second entrance was created on the west side for those mobility impaired. It brings you in to a basement area, past brickwork I suspect is original and along some delightful life-sized drawings of early nineteenth-century ladies and gentlemen. Of course, I had to stop and visit.

The Second Bank is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11am to 5pm. Learn more about it at the National Park Service website.

I’m sure you can picture yourself here