America’s 19th Century Christmas Traditions: A Connection Between the Past and Present

America’s 19th Century Christmas Traditions: A Connection Between the Past and Present

Many of the Christmas holiday traditions Americans honor in the early 21st century were shaped in the 19th century as this image from an issue of Harper’s Weekly in January 1869 reflects.

Christmas in the United States is not only a federal holiday but arguably the most celebrated holiday in the country, as evidenced by more retail and holiday decoration sales devoted to it than any other holiday during the year. However America’s celebration of this holiday has not always been universal and indeed, its traditions as celebrated in the United States are much more recent than most Americans likely are aware of, with most present day variations of American holiday traditions descended from the 19th century Victorian era. This was also the main time period Fort Mackinac was in active use as a military garrison and this heritage of holiday traditions is also reflected in the history of the fort and local inhabitants. (more…)

Sophia Bates Truscott’s Dress

Sophia Bates Truscott’s Dress

Sophia’s dress.

Sophia Bates Truscott was born on January 18, 1830 in Kingston, Ontario to William and Sarah Bates. She got married to George Truscott, a businessman, in 1852 after they met in Port Hope, Ontario. Together they had 4 children, Rosa, Ida, Lillian, and George. She died on Mackinac Island in 1911. Little is known about her upbringing except for the fact that her dress is in our collection and that she made it herself. (more…)

Mary Ella Cowles

Mary Ella Cowles

Mary Ella Cowles

Mary Ella Hitchcock was born in 1855 in Rochester, New York. At 18 years old, she, her younger sister Kate, and parents Charles and Eliza Hitchcock headed west. Her father had purchased a silver mine near Prescott, Arizona, but the family was caught in a snowstorm for several days. They retreated to Fort Verde on December 27, 1873 and were under the protection of the soldiers. Just days prior, a young lieutenant named Calvin Duvall Cowles had arrived at the post with the 23rd Infantry. He was soon smitten with Mary Ella and, within six months, they were married.

For the next ten years, the Cowles family lived at ten different posts. Twice Calvin left on campaigns, with Mary Ella caring for home and family. Their first child, Mary – called Toosie to avoid confusion with her mother Mary – was born in 1875. Sons Robert, William, Calvin, Jr., and Josiah followed. To reorganize a household on an annual basis, and move with young children and infants was hard on the family, especially Mary Ella.  It was also a struggle financially to move the family so often. Mary Ella was frustrated with the lack of amenities and help to care for their growing family.  (more…)

Winter Recreation on Victorian Mackinac Island

Winter Recreation on Victorian Mackinac Island

Most stores have closed, many hotels and cottages have been boarded up, and we have had the first snow of the season on Mackinac Island.  Winter on Victorian Mackinac Island was much like it is today – boats stopped running, winter provisions were stocked, and the smaller island population could be cut off the from mainland often. While ice breakers, the internet and planes keep present-day Mackinac Island more connected than ever before, what did island residents do in the past in the wintertime? (more…)