Samuel F.B. Morse painted Samuel Nelson (1792-1873) in the late 1820s when Morse spent the summer in Cherry Valley, New York, at the invitation of his cousin, James Otis Morse. A leading figure in Cooperstown, Samuel Nelson had a long, successful law career. He was Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court and later served as Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. His summer law office is now located at The Farmers’ Museum
The painter Samuel F.B. Morse is best remembered as the inventor of the Morse code and the telegraph, Morse originally intended to be an artist. He studied with Benjamin West in London and aspired to be a history painter. However, finding that the majority of his commissions were for portraiture, he stopped painting in 1837.
Samuel Nelson, Samuel Morse, 1829, oil on canvas, H 38.5 x W: 33.25 in. Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of Stephen C. Clark, N0339.1955.
Quill pens were the writing implement of choice before the invention of the metal-nibbed pen in the mid 19th Century. The wing feathers of large birds made excellent quill pens. The hollow interior of the feather helped hold ink in reserve, allowing the writer to dip into the ink less often. This quill is made from a turkey feather. People gathered the feathers during the turkey’s annual molt where turkeys shed the feathers naturally. People trimmed the feathers to a fine point- that rarely needed to be resharpened.
Like today, people who had injured their legs or feet used crutches in order to move around. Crutches of the nineteenth century were not as comfortable as today’s and could not be easily adjusted to fit the height of the user. Rags would sometimes be wrapped around the top to try and make it less painful to use.
Pharmacists, grocers, and many others sold immensely popular patent medicines during the nineteenth century. Premixed patent medicines came with instruction for use and often advertised that they did not contain chemicals commonly used in prescription medications. Neither the United States nor the State of New York had any laws regulating the creation or sale of patent medicines.
Plates similar to this one were popular in the 1820’s and 1830’s. The drawings on them are typically from an artist named James Eights, who accompanied the Erie Canal engineers in 1825, and documented the completed structures by making little watercolor drawings. The drawings were then used later as imagery for some of the plates, including this one.
On October 26th, 1825, the Erie Canal was officially completed. With much pomp and fanfare, Governor Dewitt Clinton made the 10 day journey down the canal, from Buffalo to New York Harbor. At the harbor, Clinton ceremoniously poured Lake Erie water into New York Harbor, officially “Wedding the Waters.”
Coverlet woven for Elizabeth W. Thomson, Jefferson County, NY.
Tyler Harry was active as a fancy weaver in Jefferson County, New York, from the mid 1830’s until the late 1850’s. Many coverlets are attributed to him and his family, and his work is well documented. Family tradition records that members of the Thomson family carded, spun, and dyed the wool yarns for this coverlet. By supplying the wool from their own farm to the weaver, the Thomson’s, as with many farm families, could reduce the out-of-pocket costs of the coverlet.
Some fancy weavers also advanced to the use of Jacquard Looms which became available after 1825, producing the more graphic designs of floral bouquets, birds, animals and text that became very popular in the coverlets they were weaving and personalizing by adding the name of their clients and the year woven in the border corners.
Coverlet, ca. 1844, Wool, Cotton, L: 95.25in x W: 76.5. The Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of Margaret Carey, N0047.1996.
This tool is a wrought iron, six-pronged, swiveled hop sampler. It operates like a pair of scissors. Growers and dealers used hop samplers to extract a sample from a bale of hops. They judged the quality of the crop and the harvesting process from the sample, and this determined a price for the product.
An anvil is an important tool for any black smith. It is the object on which hot metal is struck. The heavy anvil causes the energy from the strike of the hammer to focus on the metal object being created.