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Scenes from a Western Journey: Excerpts from John Mason Brown’s 1861 diary

By Sara Elliott, Director

Map RouteMap showing the route taken by John Mason Brown on his trip to the Northwest in 1861, The Filson Club History Quarterly, 1950.

John Mason Brown, the son of Mason and Mary Yoder Brown, was born at Liberty Hall in April 1837. A graduate of Yale, Brown taught school in Frankfort, worked for the Kentucky Geological Survey, studied law and shortly after being admitted to the Kentucky bar, followed his half-brother, Benjamin Gratz Brown, to St. Louis in 1860.

Brown was interested in history, geology, geography, and languages. Therefore, it is not surprising that the lure of the west—the west that Lewis and Clark had seen a little over 50 years before—would lead him on a six-month adventure that, fortunately for us, he chronicled in his diary.

Collections Spotlight: Sunday Night at Chickamauga

By Julie Payne

Chickamauga Painting image 1Sunday Night at Chickamauga, attributed to Samuel Woodson Price, oil on canvas, ca. 1870, Liberty Hall Historic Site Collections.

When my husband, Warren, and I were asked to join the Liberty Hall Historic Site’s Collections Committee, we never dreamed it would result in finding a treasure.  Our first assignment, to evaluate a standing plate warmer, was interesting, but not exactly in our area of expertise. Since our area of expertise is Kentucky antique art, we asked, might there be a print we could evaluate?  The answer was yes.

Old-fashioned Election Cake

By Vicky Middleswarth, Educator

Cake 4Election cake loaf made with a recipe developed for the Old Farmer’s Almanac based on the one in The American Frugal Housewife.

What special days do you assoicate with special foods? Is Election Day on your list? In some parts of early New England, Election Day was observed with a yeasty cake thought to be an American original.  Sometime after 1829, Margaretta Brown copied a recipe for “Election Cake” in a small oblong journal, one of several family receipt books in Liberty Hall’s archival collection.

Collections Spotlight: French Fashion

By Kate Hesseldenz, Curator

French Fashion Blog Image 1House of Worth gown, ca. 1906; Weeks gown, 1910-1915; Cheruit gown and suit, 1910-1920, Liberty Hall Historic Site Collections

Among the fifty pieces of historic women’s clothing in the LHHS collection there are four early 20th century Parisian garments, three gowns and a suit.  Who in the family owned these clothes and did they travel to Europe to acquire them?  It seems that someone in the Brown family knew that Paris, France, was (and still is) the fashion capital of the world. American women who wished to be in style in the early 1900s bought French clothes.[i] 

Slavery at Liberty Hall: The Stepney Family, Part 4

By Sara Elliott, Director

Stepney Family blog

This is the fourth and final installment in the blog series about the enslaved Stepney family. These biographical sketches may have contained information that seemed contradictory or confusing. As has been said before, African American genealogical research can be very difficult. We have collected information on people we believe are the Stepneys who worked and lived at Liberty Hall. Without corroborating documents, it is hard to confirm which individuals with the surname Stepney, found in post-Civil War public records, were enslaved by the Browns.

Slavery at Liberty Hall: The Stepney Family, Part 3

By Sara Elliott, Director

Stepney Family blog

This is the third in a multi-part blog about the enslaved Stepney family that lived and worked at Liberty Hall. Thanks to the Brown family archives, public documents like tax records and censuses, and publications like city directories we have been able to piece together a little of the Stepneys’ history. Unfortunately, we only know where they lived and what kind of work they did. We do not know how Miles and Hannah met. We do not know what kind of disability their daughter Mourning had. We do not know anything about their hopes and dreams.

Uncovering the story of Harry Mordecai, Bricklayer and Plasterer at Liberty Hall Historic Site

By Sharon Cox

Mordecai blog Sharon Cox image 1Orlando Brown House exterior, photograph by Hilly Dobner, 2019.

My first introduction to Mordecai’s work at the Orlando Brown House was a report of Jacqueline Ridley’s tour of Liberty Hall. Jacqueline is a descendant of Mordecai. Harry Mordecai had been known as a free African American plasterer who was thought to have plastered the Old State Capitol and the Orlando Brown House. Curator Kate Hesseldenz was able to provide Jacqueline with a copy of Orlando Brown’s record of paying Mordecai for some of the plasterwork at Orlando’s house and Orlando’s letter to his father about the construction progress.

Slavery at Liberty Hall: The Stepney Family, Part 2

By Sara Elliott, Director

Stepney Family blog

This is the second in a multi-part blog about the enslaved Stepney family that lived and worked at Liberty Hall. These biographies are based on the continuing research of the LHHS staff. Brown family letters and documents gave us hints about the Stepneys. Public resources like wills, city directories, census, and tax records filled in some of the details.

Slavery at Liberty Hall: The Stepney Family, Part 1

By Sara Elliott, Director

Stepney Family blog

The first enslaved Black people came to Kentucky with the early European explorers in the mid-1700s. Protected by the 1792 state constitution, slavery continued to grow until by 1860 24% of the population was enslaved.[i] Although most Kentuckians did not own slaves there were over 225,000 enslaved African Americans in 1860, the largest number in the state’s history.[ii]

Hail Glorious Day! Early American Fourth of July Poems

By Kate Hesseldenz, Curator

Fourth of July poetry image 1Title page from Margaretta Mason Brown's commonplace book, 1785-1807 and portrait of Margaretta Mason Brown, watercolor on ivory, ca. 1790s, Liberty Hall Historic Site Collections

One of my favorite items in the collection is a commonplace book owned by Margaretta Mason Brown (1772-1838).  The book contains 52 poems.  Margaretta wrote many of the poems in the book, but she also copied some of them from magazines and newspapers.  They are arranged chronologically, and she titled the book “Fugitive Pieces, or, Juvenile Essays.” Margaretta began writing and copying poems into the book in 1785, when she was just 13 years old and lived in New York City. The last poem in the book is dated 1807.