What about the children at Stratford?

When we look at Stratford today, we see a relatively calm landscape. A house, outbuildings, gardens, work spaces, living areas, fields, barns, and all of them are (on an ordinary day) pretty darn quiet. But that wouldn’t have necessarily been the case during the Lee family’s ownership of Stratford. The historical record tells us quite vividly that there were children bringing life to Stratford’s now hushed spaces. And we all know that children bring with them a certain vivaciousness that cannot be denied

Philip Ludwell Lee and his wife Elizabeth reared Phil, Matilda, and Flora in the same rooms that Philip lived in during his youth. The administrator accounts of the time immediately following Philip’s death in 1775 help illustrate the kind of life that his own young children experienced. Payments include costs for:

Mis Panthon for teaching them
Charlet Booth Nursing
Childrens Shoes
1 pr stays for Mis Matilda
Payment to a music master
Pins, needles, silver buckles, and a side saddle
Cleaning Mis Matildas teeth

At that same time there were at least nine very young enslaved children or infants living at Stratford. Along with other personal property, these children were listed and assigned a value in the 1776 household inventory. Very young children were listed with their mothers [“Nelly and her Child Nancy…Sukey and her Child Ariana…”] or otherwise delineated [“Gilbert and Randall boys…”]. If the women had other children, they were older and valued separately.

We hope that modern-day children will come to visit Stratford and ask questions about childhood here: What toys would they have to play with? Would they be required to work? Would they go to school? How would they dress? What would they get to eat?

And keep an eye on our future projects in the historic area, as we have new tours and new room installations that will hopefully bring to life the answer to these and many other questions about the children at Stratford.

-Gretchen Goodell Pendleton, Curator