Exploring the Artifacts: Colonial Mapmaking

Colonial Mapmaking

This is, as stated on the artifact, “A MAPP OF YE IMPROVED PENSILVANIA IN AMERICA DIVIDED INTO COUNTIES TOWNSHIPS ANDLOTS. SURVEYED BY THO.HOLMES SOLD BY P.LEA. DEDICATED TO WILLIAM PENNBY INO HARRIS”. This print, shown above, is on display located in the porch of the House, above the fireplace. The map shows Philadelphia and the land along the Delaware River from New Castle to Pennsbury. It is an early 18th century map that is 26 ¼ by 20 ¾ inches in size. It is on white paper done in black printer’s ink and some watercolors.

Some features of the map include the crest of Pennsbury, decorations depicting a full net of fish and a harvest of food with farming tools in the top center, signifying prosperity and the abundance of resources. Key of the map include a scale of distance, compass, and in the top left and right corners there are boxes that say, “REFERS TO SETTLEMENTS OF SEVERAL INHABITANTS IN THE COUNTY OF CHESTER/ BUCKSANDPHILADELPHIA”. Terrain features shown on the map consists of rivers, islands in the Delaware River, trees which symbolize not only forests, but perhaps how dense the forests were by showing trees close to each other and some spread out, and clumps of buildings symbolizing settlements, such as on this map “Newcafle” and “Bridlington”. On the top center of the page is a close up of Philadelphia, which is quite significant in its layout. The Fire of 1666 in London destroyed most of the city. The main problem in London’s design was how close the building was to one another, thus the fire was able to spread more easily. William Penn saw this flaw and he designed Philadelphia to be organized in a grid pattern with plenty of open space between buildings. This map is not only an important resource to us in learning what the landscape looked like back then, but also how map making progressed through time. 

Maps with color and decoration such as this one began to appear in the 17th Century. Over time, maps got grander in their decoration, showing anything from Roman gods to mythical creatures to historical or biblical events unfolding on land or at sea. Along the boarders were sometimes family crests or university crests to show the power and prestige of the areas that the map showed. Close up boxes of important areas could also be found somewhere on the map. Small pictures of terrain features were also prevalent, showing forests, hills, mountains, wildlife, castles, settlements and bodies of water, to name a few. Map keys for distance measurements and other features were always on maps, just like they are today.

In comparison with old and modern maps, our maps shows at least one characteristic of both. Compared to old maps, our map does not have any references to biblical, historical, or mythological themes. It was done in color, though it has faded over time, and the crest of Pennsbury is featured on it, which is also shown in older maps. In comparison to modern maps, our map differs by having land plots with the owner’s name on it, beautiful symbolic decorations, differences in landscape, and is less accurate geographically. The most common feature that mostly every map has is a key for which anyone could figure out and find their way.


 By Danielle Straub

April Collections Featurette

We pride ourselves at Pennsbury Manor in providing our visitors with Hands-On History Techniques. This mode of interpretation addresses different learning styles, and in an odd way allows our visitors to “touch the past.” We have broken down a wall between old visitor experiences and fresh, new approaches. Of course, we do not allow guests to touch original objects! We utilize quality reproductions. Using the example of the pewter chamber pots in William and Hannah’s room we can see that both re-production items have widely different appearances. Why? Because one is kept pristinely polished, while the other is available to be handled – you can see this very quickly. Imagine how much luster would vanish through constant use, or how an original might be easily destroyed! And as we know, visitors are often tempted to touch the tiles that surround some of the fireplaces in the Manor House. As many of you know these tiles are original to the site, having been found archaeologically in the late 1930s. We cannot escape their presence, but must be on guard to protect them. Fortunately if you play your cards right they can be used to provide a brief opportunity to illustrate how historical interpretation has changed over time. I almost always point to them and ask visitors, “If we were to undertake the Pennsbury re-construction project in the 21st Century would we use original artifacts as part of the building’s fabric?” Most people “get it” and respond with an exuberant “No!” I add, “Maybe this was one way they commemorated the past in the past. Today we would likely have the tiles re-produced locally up in Doylestown at the Moravian Tile Works, which you can visit.” We then move on.

Before heading in the direction of background information on period tiles, be reminded that archaeologist Dr. Cadzow’s surviving excavation notes make no mention of the tiles – strongly-held tradition states they were found here. That said, an inventory of household goods done in 1687 lists “1 passell of nara tyles [narrow].” Locally-made, plain floor tiles first appear in Northern Europe after the Roman departure (1600 years ago). Initially tiles would have been for the upper class domestic spaces, and religious public places. Our two tiles on display in the exhibit are 5” X 5” and about ¾ “thick. Ours are clearly of red clay, with glaze. One is green, the other a faded, yellow. One can see in the exhibit that the color of the tiles’ base is what most call “brick red.” It is generally accepted “the redder and thicker the body, the older the tile.”  According to our exhibit panel text the tiles were “shipped from Europe.” Considering the advances at the time in ceramics, glazes, and desire for artistic expression our tiles are rather subdued. 

It is possible that these tiles were purchased primarily with utility in mind, rather than for purely decorative use. If originally used to surround a fireplace they provided a much easier surface to keep clean from soot and ash. Documented use of tiles on either side of doorways to reduce “finger-marks,” and applied at the intersection of walls and floors as a kind of baseboard has been noted in Holland. Might William Penn have seen this in his travels across Europe? How do you invite visitors to “touch the past?”


[1] Cadzow, Donald, “Archaeological Preliminary Report (1932-1935).” On file in Pennsbury Collections area. Thanks to Curator Todd Galle for assistance.

[2] Cummings, Hubertis M., “An Account of Goods at Pennsbury Manor, 1687”, Pennsylvania Magazine of History & Biography, (Vol. 86, 1962, p. 415).

[3] Wilcoxen, Charlotte. Dutch Trade and Ceramics in America in the Seventeenth Century. (Albany, NY: Albany Institute of History & Art, 1987), p. 70.

[4] Ibid., p. 70.

[5] Thornton, Peter. Seventeenth-Century Interior Decoration in England, France & Holland. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1978), p. 74.

March Collections Featurette

Don’t Flip Your Wig!

As historic site guides and interpreters we not only tell stories to our wonderful visitors but show them the “stuff’ of the past, as well. Here is a technique that I was recently enthusiastically encouraged to share.

“This is my favorite object” usually gets visitors’ attention. I suggest that you share your favorite object with our guests. Like many of you, I have one; mine is located in (Well, since I am the new kid on the block who has not seen everything quite yet I’ll call it my current favorite object.) the Penn’s bed chamber: the wig stand, (It turns out it is not part of our permanent holdings but from a New York collector). This object immediately struck me as a fine example of the turner’s art. Our stand is 31 3/4 inchestall, graceful and appears to be made from a soft wood. It is painted black possibly to imitate mahogany or ebony, thus giving it a sense of elegance. Keep in mind that tastes for the exotic increased as Europeans began colonization. Access to new materials provided artisans outlets for creativity and customers with new goods.

Formal portraits show us that in late-seventeenth century Europe men were wearing their hair long. By the era of the American Revolution hair had become shorter. (Another article may appear talking in general terms about changes in fashion during the Penns’ era.) Wigs were popular in both periods. Male fashions were set by royalty.  Monarchs had expectations for visitors’ appearance. They seemed to have wanted to control the pleasing visual aspect of life at court. During William Penn’s time men were encouraged to wear luxurious wigs; quite long wigs became the fad. Some extended below shoulder-length. [The wig that our stand could support would reach my waistband!] As an example, take a look at the King’s portrait in the Great Hall. Co-incidentally, Charles II and William Penn were balding. As a small child Penn contracted smallpox and was left with partial hair loss.

As Philadelphia developed at a very rapid pace, many tradesman and artisans set up shop to take advantage of the growth. The city soon acquired a wood turner (who was also a saddler) named Henry Furnis who set up shop in one of the caves along the river. Penn wanted folks out of them – and quick! We have correspondence between Penn and Furnis in which we see that the shopkeeper was offered rental space owned by the proprietor. Mr. Furnis felt this to be an inconvenience because he needed to be near woodlands to acquire materials for his trade. Think about the last time you saw a wig stand. Likely it was made of plastic or Styrofoam – and NOT turned! My how times have changed…

You can now see that we can use objects to make deeper connections to the past for visitors. With a simple wig stand we can tell the story of changes in fashion, expanding empires, and even employment among tradesmen. Oh, and shopping! Hhhmmm, do you think we should offer wig stands in our Gift Shop?



By Jim Cawley

January Collections Featurette

Portrait of Catherine of Braganza

I’ve always loved the portrait of Queen Catherine by Peter Lely in the great hall.  The dignity and serene expression of her face and the sumptuous clothing suggest a Queen who is leading a life of luxury and position. Nothing could be further from the truth!  Poor Catherine had a difficult life filled with disappointment and ridicule.  Yet she rose above it all and is seen by historians as a valiant and resilient woman.

Catherine of Branganza was born in 1638, the daughter of the King of Portugal.  At the time, Portugal was a poor nation living in the shadow of Spain.  Because an alliance with England would bolster Portugal’s security, they began marriage negotiations between Catherine and England’s future King Charles II when she was a child.  The English Civil War and subsequent reign of Proprietor Cornwell put these plans on hold, but negotiations resumed with restoration of Charles and they were married in 1662. 

From the beginning, there were problems with the union.  Catherine had been raised in a convent and was deeply religious.  (The terms of her marriage included freedom to practice her Catholic faith without persecution.)  Charles, on the other hand, was famously known as one of the most “immoderate” of monarchs.  Catherine was horrified by the debauchery of court.  Right away, Catherine was forced to face the power and influence of her husband’s mistresses.  Lady Castlemaine, the King’s chief mistress, was to serve the new Queen as a “Lady of the Bedchamber,” giving Castlemaine free access to the Queen in all parts of her life.  The ensuing battle between the royal couple lasted several months and was extremely heated.  One witness in court recorded a confrontation between the pair, and “the passion and noise of the night reached too many ears to be a secret the next day; and the whole Court was full of that, which ought to have been known to nobody.”

Eventually, the Queen relented in the face of the increasingly pressure from the King.  Some historians maintain that she conceded only because Portugal needed more assistance from England.  Whatever friends the Queen had at court abandoned her, understanding that the Queen had no influence with the King.  Adding to her humiliation was her inability to produce an heir to the throne.  Yet Catherine had reason to hope that there was some affection on the part of her husband.  Samuel Pepys writes of seeing the King and Queen at an informal gathering, and he recounts a merry bantering between the two – although Castlemaine was also noted as being present.  Even in later years, witnesses report the King’s great affection for Catherine.  Throughout his reign, the King steadfastly refused all suggestions to divorce his wife, and he protected her against accusations of her alleged participation in treasonous plots.  In the fall of 1663, Catherine fell gravely ill.  As she lay dying, the distraught King attended to her and begged her to live “for his sake.”  The Queen complied and began to recover.  As she became stronger, her husband lost interest and returned to his mistresses.

After Charles II died, Catherine remained in England for several years.  She returned to Portugal in 1692 and, at age 66, acted as regent (ruling monarch) for her brother.  As regent, she gained several successes over the Spanish.  She died a wealthy and popular woman.  But the legacy of her bitter years will always follow her and can be seen even today at Pennsbury.  Look closely at the plaque on her portrait.  The Queen’s portrait is identified as the Duchess of Portsmouth – one of Charles’ most famous mistresses.


by Mary Ellyn Kunz

December Collections Featurette

As a special Holiday treat, we are changing up our usual routine! Instead of featuring an artifact from our collections, the staff would like to feature a special document: Peter Kalm’s Travels in North America, published in 1749. Kalm included a description of Quaker Christmas celebrations in the mid-18th century, about 48 years after Penn left the colony:

“Today Christmas Day was celebrated in the city, but not with such reverence as it is in old Sweden. On the evening before, the bells of the English Church rang for a long time to announce the approaching Yuletide. In the morning guns were fired off in various parts of the town.

People went to church, much in the same manner as on ordinary Sundays, both before and after dinner. This took place in the English, Swedish, and German churches. The Quakers did not regard this day any more remarkable than other days. Stores were open, and anyone might sell or purchase what he wanted. But servants had a three-day vacation period…”

The holiday season is always special at Pennsbury Manor, as we aim to share the welcoming and generous spirit so important to William Penn. We hope you enjoyed our Holly Nights event, which was a smashing success! The staff at Pennsbury wish you a very happy holiday season and hope to see you again in the new year!

(Very Belated) November Collections Featurette

I’m sorry we are so behind in posting November’s Collection’s Featurette, but hopefully many of you have already seen it published in the newsletter…

Delftware Charger

This month’s focus object is a delftware (most likely Dutch) charger or platter. The use of earthenware in the food service realm was widespread both in Europe and the colonies. A healthy trade in tin glazed pottery began by the Dutch and later continued by the English, expanded as the colonies matured and developed. Tin ware, wooden bowls, and pewter were augmented and sometimes replaced by imported delftware as socio-economic conditions improved.  

The rapid development of Philadelphia as a trading center would have helped to make such goods available to a wide variety of early colonists. This example is useful in interpreting the rapid development of Pennsylvania as both a colony and an economy desirous of bringing a European style of living to the New World.

This artifact also helps to illustrate the museum collection management and curatorial field. People often ask what a curator actually does. The easiest explanation, and one that Pennsbury staff and volunteers can appreciate, is that curators are stewards. We look after not only objects, but also the track the history of the object, the ‘who, what, where, when, why’ type of information helpful in interpreting that item. In the next newsletter, I’ll let you know what the file tells us about “PM75.127 / CHARGER, DELFT / 4: Food Service T & E” as well as other curatorial considerations regarding the object.

By Todd Galle

October Collections Featurette

Engraving of King William III  

 Date of Origin: circa 1690

Description: Black printer’s ink etching on cream paper. In armor wearing the seal of the Garter. Portrait is in an oval with panoply of spears and flags above. Cupids in armor below. Painted and sold by Henry Overton, London.

By the end of the 17th Century, printing had become a widespread phenomenon throughout England and Europe. Printing presses, though not much different from the original European version, the Gutenberg Press, had spread like wildfire throughout society. They now printed all manner of goods from leather-bound books to newspapers to cheap penny broadsides, or “catchpennies.” These paper sheets were affordable to the masses and spread news and gossip, especially about politics and public figures. The more sensational the story, the more copies street hawkers could sell. They could even carve sketches onto wooden blocks and insert them into the typeset frame, creating printed images. It could be a double-edged sword for those in power; they could spread their ideas through word and image throughout the country, but so could their opposition.

 It had long been tradition for a newly crowned king or queen to pose for a portrait. Many duplicates were made and sent to the country’s aristocrats and ruling families to hang in their homes and public buildings, as a way of asserting the monarch’s authority. Once printing entered mainstream culture, they could engrave a portrait and print hundreds of copies to spread through the lower classes. This image of William III was printed in 1690, only a year after he and his wife Mary ascended to the throne.

William III, Prince of Orange, was descended from the royal family of the Netherlands. His mother was the eldest daughter of English monarch Charles I. He married James II’s eldest daughter Mary when he was 27 and she only 15 years old. When her father ascended to the English throne, she became heir presumptive. Her Protestantism allowed the English to tolerate their Catholic king, knowing he would be replaced. But when his wife gave birth to a son in 1688 – who would be raised a Catholic and start a royal Catholic dynasty – the people rebelled. They believed a rumor that James had brought in a fake son in order to secure Catholic control. William marched to London, determined to safeguard Protestant control, and James was forced to flee to France with his family. William and Mary were crowned joint-rulers of England on February 13, 1689.

 They may have been co-regents, but Queen Mary declined to participate in public affairs except when her husband was away. She died in 1694, after only 5 years on the throne. Their marriage had begun badly, but William was reportedly devastated by her death and never remarried.

William’s European world-view was a dramatic change after James’ narrow English-centric perspective. The English people found him to be too cold and serious, and in last years of his reign Parliament refused to cooperate with his requests. The evolution of his reign reflected a shift in the English political system from monarchical government to a more parliamentary system.

  by Hannah Howard

For Further Reading:

Brown, Richard. Knowledge is Power: The Diffusion of Information in Early America, 1700-1865. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Sommerville, C. John. The News Revolution in England. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Van der Zee, Henri and Barbara. William and Mary. London, England: MacMillan London Ltd, 1973.

Williamson, David. The Kings & Queens of England. Old Saybrook, Connecticutt: Konecky & Konecky, 1998.

Worden, Blair, ed. Stuart England. Oxford, England: Phaidon Press Limited, 1986.

September Collections Featurette

 Pewter Chocolate Pot

 Date of Origin: reproduction, original circa 1708

Description: Reproduction of a silver chocolate pot made by John Wisdom in London of English Silver and currently owned by Williamsburg.  Has lidded spout and hinged finial.

William Penn’s time in Pennsylvania occurred during the height of drinking chocolate’s popularity. As a member of the upper-class and the governor of Pennsylvania, Penn was not only able to enjoy this fashionable new beverage; he would have been expected to do so. His preference for drinking chocolate and his strong desire to obtain it while he was in Pennsylvania, where it was even more rare than in London, is shown in a letter he wrote in August of 1700 to his associate Logan asking for him to send chocolate to Pennsbury “by all means, if to be had”.

Chocolate is made from the beans of the cacao tree, which have naturally bitter taste. The general method of preparing them for consumption began with them being dried, peeled, and slowly heated, usually using some sort of iron plate. Next, an iron roller would be used to sweeten the cacao by mixing in things like sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, ambergris or musk to be made into small cakes. Drinking chocolate could be made from these cakes by scraping off flakes and mixing them with a liquid such as milk or mulled wine. Eggs would then be mixed in with the liquid and stirred with the mill (a wooden stick with multiple notches around one end) to thicken the drink. Other commonly added ingredients were honey, salt, and flour. Flour served to take up some of the fat from the thickening of the liquid in order to make the beverage easier to digest. The resulting chocolate drink would have been richer than modern day hot chocolate because it contained the full measure of the bean’s cocoa butter. The type of pot which contained drinking chocolate was generally practical in form with straight sides, a domed cover, and an opening to insert the molinet (a wooden stick used to stir and mix the thick drink).

The cacao tree is generally thought to have originated from the Amazon in South America and spread to the surrounding regions by man. The earliest evidence of the beans use for consumption is from as early as 1100 B.C.E. with cacao residue found on pottery in Honduras. However, it wasn’t until Cortez conquered the Aztecs in the early sixteenth century that chocolate was discovered by the Spanish, who then brought it to Europe.

Production and distribution of chocolate did not emerge in England until after 1655, when the British capture of Jamaica and its cacao plantations made the cacao beans available for trade. Once there, the popularity of chocolate exploded with the first chocolate houses appearing just two years later in 1657. Chocolate, along with coffee and tea, brought caffeine to Europeans for the first time, creating an entirely new type of beverages which were non-alcoholic and served to stimulate the mind and body. Due to the fact that the beans could not be grown locally and had to be imported from far away, chocolate was extremely expensive: when the first chocolate house opened in 1657 its price per pound would today have been somewhere between 50 and 75 USD. This meant that chocolate was a luxury reserved for the upper class until the invention of the steam engine in the late eighteenth century enabled its mass shipment across the continents. It continued to find favor with consumers, establishing itself as the favored morning beverage of the elite to be enjoyed daily with breakfast. Drinking chocolate reached was at the height of its popularity during the late seventeenth and the early eighteenth centuries, but had largely been discarded in favor of tea by the end of the next fifty or so years.

by Rebecca Remmey

For Further Reading:

Bensen, Amanda. “A Brief History of Chocolate”. Smithsonian Magazine. March 01, 2008. Smithsonian Institution: Smithsonian.com.

Cavicchi, Clare Lise. Pennsbury Manor Furnishing Plan.

Davis, John D. English Silver at Williamsburg. 1976.

Phillips, Phoebe. The Collectors’ Encyclopedia of Antiques. New York: Bonanza Books and Crown Publishers, Inc., 1978.

Thirsk, Joan. Food in Early Modern England: Phases, Fads, Fashions 1500-1760. New York: Continuum Books, 2007.

Wilson, C. Anne. Food & Drink in Britain. Constable London.

August Collections Featurette

     Posset Pot

Date of Origin: circa 1700

Description: Two handles and spouted.  Birds and flowers in underglaze blue on white grounds.  Central gooseneck ceramic spout. Bristol Delft. 

There are two posset pots in the Manor House, located in Hannah’s Closet and the Great Hall. A posset is a type of alcoholic beverage or dessert, similar to modern eggnog, made with cream, eggs, sugar, wine, and cinnamon or nutmeg. Served hot, this sweet treat had three layers: a foamy top layer followed by spicy custard, usually eaten with a spoon, with a strong alcoholic liquid at the bottom, which would be sucked out through a straw.

Possets served ceremonial, medicinal, and social purposes. Traditionally they have been drunk for the celebratory toast made at weddings. Medicinally, possets were used as a cure-all treatment for minor ailments such as the common cold. They could also be present in social settings, as a nourishing and easily digestible beverage consumed in a relaxing or retiring setting.

Possets were served in their own specialized container, a two-handled spouted ceramic mug called a posset pot. Posset pots were usually made of delftware with little variation in their blue and white painted glaze decoration. This particular posset pot originated circa 1700, during the peak of delft popularity, from Bristol Deft which was the epicenter of delft production.

Delftware, also called limeware, Holland ware, and galley ware, is a type of earthenware that was coated in a lead glaze and tin ashes to make it clear so it could then be decorated with colored pigments of which blue was the most common. It originated in eastern Asia and spread to Western Europe in the 16th century. Due to its origins, delft design frequently imitated Chinese porcelains and reflected the growing popularity of Asian-inspired decoration.  European colonization of that region meant a major influx of goods from the Orient which made an impression on the British culture. Delftware production in England began 1567, after which the center of production soon moved from Holland to England- particularly London and Bristol. The popularity of delftware grew by leaps and bounds in the American Colonies, becoming the most common type of ceramic export from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries.

by Rebecca Remmey

Further Reading:

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