Gobble Wobble Fun Run at The Woodlands


Join The Woodlands for their first ever Fun Run on Saturday, November 14th at 10 AM.

This individual or team relay 5K wobble takes you through the historic grounds of William Hamilton’s eighteenth-century estate, the nineteenth-century cemetery, and a modern day urban oasis. Outrun the West Philly Turkey and support the neighborhood’s best running spot.

Registration includes a one-year Runners Membership to The Woodlands. All proceeds go towards the preservation and improvement of the grounds and runner amenities.

The first 100 people to register receive a limited edition Gobble Wobble pint glass!

Register here: runtheday.com/race/woodlandswobble

Our newest neighbors will be serving beer after the race at the grave of its namesake - Clarence Clark.

Our newest neighbors will be serving beer after the race at the grave of its namesake – Clarence Clark.

Compete to win the first place prize - a Thanksgiving turkey or tofurkey from Mariposa.

Compete to win the first place prize – a Thanksgiving turkey or tofurkey from Mariposa.

You Are What You Eat: Understanding Hamilton’s World through Culinary History

I am a former culinary arts student who decided to get out of the kitchen and into the archives (it’s much cooler). As a graduate student, I have been able to combine my love for history and people with my affinity for food and drink. Under the guidance of Dr. Whitney Martinko, this past summer I began my journey at The Woodlands, using culinary history, food history, and public history to tell new stories about William Hamilton and his household staff.

Beneath the terrace of the Hamilton mansion spans a brick-covered passageway that servants used to move discretely throughout the house. Providing access to three main areas in the cellar, the Cryptoporticus functioned as a connector from the service spaces beneath the mansion to the stable and kitchen gardens. The tunnel stretched from beneath the terrace, and through the lawn to the stable! Researchers will begin an archaeological project this year to locate the footprint of the subterranean pathway and excavate the site to learn more about Hamilton’s world. IMG_9712

During the current construction project, contractors have carefully removed the bricks from the arch of the tunnel, numbered them accordingly, and reset them. Rehabilitating the structure has led to a number of opportunities for researchers and staff at The Woodlands. The most exciting news so far is the discovery of a secret set of stairs! The steps align with the original 1770 structure, showing us where Hamilton’s servants would have exited the tunnel before the wings we see today were added to both sides of the mansion. The rehabilitated Cryptoporticus helps tell the story about the people who cleaned, cooked, and supported Hamilton’s genteel world.

In an effort to expand our understanding, I embarked on a mission to answer the question: What did William Hamilton eat? Trying to find an answer forced me to consider Hamilton’s relationship with his service staff, who sustained his world from the bottom-up. Uncovering the types of domestic systems that were in place to sustain such a refined household will add another layer to the complex history of Hamilton and the Woodlands, and opens a window into studies of race, class, and gender in eighteenth-century Philadelphia, as well as urban history and public history.

The Woodlands Household Accounts, George Smith Collection at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

The Woodlands Household Accounts, George Smith Collection at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

To date, there is no record of any dinner menus from The Woodlands, so I began with a collection of Hamilton’s receipts held in the George Smith Collection at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Hamilton, like many genteel males of the period, was a meticulous note-taker of payments and purchases. Unfortunately, a large number of household accounts remain uninvestigated at this time, leaving only a faint trail of documents to follow. Speculating about what types of dishes he served his guests based on available sources highlights the influences that shaped Hamilton as an individual. We are lucky because this also conveys the number of historical contexts in which The Woodlands mansion, especially the service spaces and dining room, can be interpreted to the public.

Kislak Center for Rare Books and Manuscripts Collection, University of Pennsylvania.

Kislak Center for Rare Books and Manuscripts Collection, University of Pennsylvania.

Listed on his receipts are individual items and foodstuffs, causing me to wonder what dishes Hamilton’s cook was making with these ingredients. To figure this out, I looked to the University of Pennsylvania’s Kislak Center for Rare Books and Manuscripts, and hit a culinary history goldmine. To be honest, at some points in my research I felt like I was preparing for an eighteenth-century version of Food Network’s “Chopped!” With the help of Dr. Martinko and Dr. Mitch Fraas, the Curator of Special Collections at Penn, I was able to mine through eighteenth-century manuscripts and published cookbooks to learn more about eighteenth-century American and English cuisine. I took the ingredients listed on Hamilton’s receipts and used both textual sources and my imagination to speculate about the types of dishes Hamilton could have been eating and/or serving his guests.

Some common ingredients listed:

  • currants
  • raisins
  • sugar
  • coffee
  • tea
  • flour
  • bread
  • limes
  • lemons
  • wine
  • brandy
  • almonds
  • cream

Less frequent purchases include:

  • cheese
  • artichokes
  • peas
  • pineapple
  • fish
  • oysters
  • tongue
  • anchovies
  • mustard
  • olives
  • pickled walnuts
  • prunes
  • rice
  • ham
  • rum

So, why is this important? What does it mean that Hamilton ate a lot of raisins, or that he most likely served his guests a lot of punch? A food-history interpretation is a valuable way to share The Woodlands’ dynamic history in local context. Using menus and household receipts to communicate significant messages about The Woodlands’ notable bachelor, emphasizes the relationships between Hamilton and his service staff, genteel guests, and food merchants in the greater Philadelphia area during the eighteenth century. In order to truly understand who Hamilton was, we must first discover what he ate.

Compound Utensils and Refined Dining: A Material Analysis of an Eighteenth-Century Pocketknife

As part of a project for Dr. Whitney Martinko’s Material Culture class, we had to choose one object to serve as a starting point for what would eventually be a detailed object biography. Since I am interested in eighteenth-century food and culinary history, I decided to check out the collections at Valley Forge National Park, hoping to find some sort of dining implement. However, what I ended up finding was much, much more than that.

As one of thirty-three pocketknives being stored at Valley Forge National Park, the eighteenth-century Dutch sailor’s jackknife, with a needle, two-tine fork, (yes, a fork!) and a mysterious engraving on the blade, is undoubtedly one of the coolest compact knives I have ever seen! While I immediately knew that I would be using this for my project, I ran into some problems right from the get-go. An obstacle to creating an object biography for the pocketknife is the ambiguous language used by curator George Neumann in his item description. It is clear that the item was not an archaeological find, and that it is of “possible” Dutch origin. However, it is unclear why it is suspected to be of that origin, or what the meaning of “Dutch” actually is or implies in this case. It is also undetermined if the owner was a sailor; if the knife was intended to be used by sailor; or if this was a standard label for this type of knife. At first, the pocketknife’s unknown origins seemed to be a complication, but after studying the object, particularly the fork, in person for the third time I realized that Neumann’s description has not helped me understand the object; instead, it obscures what the material evidence itself tells me, and his vagueness has only led me to a more complex, historical and material inquiry of the jackknife.

The lack of cataloged information forced me to search for knives of the same material and structural nature to provide context for the object. I turned to other museums that housed pocketknives with similar characteristics and came across a collection at the State Museum of Pennsylvania, and an item at Cambridge University’s Fitzwilliam Museum. From these findings emerged two cultural contexts in which I could analyze the eighteenth-century compound utensil. The collection at the State Museum of Pennsylvania holds the same type of pistol-grip, bone-paneled knives as the sailor’s jackknife, only these knives were without forks and excavated from Native American settlements in Lancaster County—a county in which half of the population was composed of German-speaking Dutch settlers during a majority of the eighteenth century. On the other hand, the Roman folding knife housed at the Fitzwilliam Museum does contain a fork, along with a spoon, spike, spatula, and a small pick, and is said to be manufactured any time between 200 AD and 300 AD. Placing the eighteenth-century jackknife in these two, very different cultural contexts has helped me begin to understand what these multi-tool pocketknives meant to these different groups of people, and most importantly what meanings they imposed on these types of objects. After researching the jackknife’s possible uses and meanings in different historical and cultural contexts, I concluded that this primary source object can be used to provide insight to understanding the use of portable dining utensils as another means to exude refinement outside of the domestic sphere.

I referenced Richard Bushman’s The Refinement of America to help me think of less obvious reasons for wanting to carry a fork-knife combo in one’s pocket.  What connotations did this object have as an eating utensil, and what about the owner(s) circumstance made it a desirable object to carry in their pocket? It is possible that the owner was using these dining implements around a hearth to demonstrate their knowledge of dining etiquette usually displayed in the home. My inquiry becomes even more intriguing as I continue to try to understand the social and cultural environments in which these tools were being used, and whether they were used by certain people to exude refinement among others who displayed gentility, or whether they were used to separate themselves from the unrefined–or possibly both. I realized that the questions I have asked inform the conversation about “artifacts as symbolic representations” just as much as the answers I have found. Knives, forks, spoons, plates, bowls, etc., were not only used to separate one’s self from their food, but also to separate the refined from who they perceived to be unrefined.