Monthly Archives: December 2015

Washington’s Caribbean Adventure

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Our family’s upcoming trip to the Caribbean got me thinking about George Washington’s only trip outside the United States. Few people probably know that at age 19 Washington traveled to Barbados with his half-brother Lawrence. Barbados is an island in the eastern Caribbean.

Barbados

The purpose of the trip was to find a cure for Lawrence’s tuberculosis. At the time, it was thought that the warm and tropical climate of Barbados could cure those stricken with tuberculosis.

The Washington brothers sailed on the trading sloop, Success, and spent six weeks at sea prior to reaching Bridgetown, Barbados.

Barbados Map

Barbados is a coral island which the British developed for its sugar plantations. These model plantations operated by slaves and indentured servants provided a young Washington with insight and ideas into operating his own farms in Virginia.

Shorty after arriving in Barbados, Washington became ill with small pox. Small pox killed many who lived in the 18th century. However, Washington was able to recover after a couple of weeks, with only slight scarring on his face. This inoculated Washington from small pox, which later proved to be a key component to his good health in the American Revolution. While many officers and soldiers would find themselves ill with small pox, Washington remained healthy throughout the Revolution.

Washington’s visit to Barbados also allowed him to meet several prominent British military leaders, which spurred Washington’s interest in finding a place in the British Army. Washington also toured some of the forts located on the island. Thankfully, the British never offered Washington an officer’s commission in the army, which eventually fed his dislike of the British system of government.

Charles Fort

Charles Fort Barbados

George Washington returned to Virginia in January 1752, after spending only a couple of months in Barbados. His half-brother Lawrence later returned to Virginia, but unfortunately was never able to recover from tuberculosis. Lawrence died, adding to the list of relatives that passed during Washington’s life. While Washington’s visit to Barbados was filled with difficulties, it served as a turning point. Upon returning to Virginia, Washington knew that he wanted to serve in the military and that he wanted to try and attain the same type of success that British plantation owners had achieved on Barbados. His trip to the Caribbean was filled with meaning and gave him new purpose in a life that would lead him to become the father of a nation.

Colonial Christmas Decorations

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I have always pictured early Americans gathered around their Christmas trees, lit with glowing candles. The idea of Christmas trees is such an important part of current American culture that it’s hard to imagine a home without one. We certainly enjoy cutting our family tree and decorating it every year. However, colonists in the late 18th century didn’t have Christmas trees.

Tree

The Stevenson Family Christmas Tree

Christmas trees originated in Germany, but did not become a part of American traditions until the late 19th century. There are some reports of German colonial settlements in Pennsylvania having outdoor community trees decorated by the mid-1700’s, but there were no trees with candles inside homes.

So if early Americans didn’t have Christmas trees for decorations, what did they have? Obviously Christmas trees stay green in the winter, which is a welcome sight when all is else is brown and gray. It’s no surprise then that early Americans looked to decorate their homes with those plants that stay green in winter. Here are a few of the most common colonial Christmas decorations.

holly_with_berries_by_ivy_juniper

Holly with berries

mistletoe

Mistletoe

Wreath

Evergreen branches with berries

Laurel

Laurel

These plants, naturally staying green in winter, were often used to decorate homes and churches for Christmas. Most of these plants also have unique smells that help to brighten what would have been the cold and gray days of winter. Laurel, for example, is also known as the Bay leaf which is often used as a spice in soups.

Not surprisingly, early Americans didn’t start decorating for Christmas in November (or October even!). December 25th was often the day that decorations were brought inside as part of the Christmas Advent season. This was typically as twelve day period of time where multiple celebrations and parties occurred. Gifts would be exchanged, but not necessarily on December 25th.

Many of these early traditions and decorations continue today, even if Christmas trees weren’t a part of early American life. We put up evergreen garland and wreaths on our house, with the added flare of electric lights! It’s fun decorating today and to look back and remember how Christmas traditions have changed.

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Last year’s decorations at the Stevenson’s. ┬áNo snow this year!

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