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INSIDE THE STEPHENSON HOUSE - January 5, 2005

Hi! Henry the Stephenson House mouse is back again. It is the beginning of a new year and what a year 2005 promises to be for Col. Ben's house! Ol' Henry knows The Friends plan to have Col. Ben's house open to the public by fall. That means one mighty busy year ahead for a lot of folks! There are a lot of plans underway concerning hours of operation, programs, a summer kitchen, a gift shop, furniture and many others. The list goes on and on.


Ol' Henry has heard talk about volunteers called docents who will show visitors around Col. Ben's house as they tell about the Stephenson family and life in 1820 Edwardsville. These folks are going to have lots of fun dressed in clothing like Col. Ben and Lucy wore as they portray a member or a friend of the Stephenson family when guiding visitors through the house. Hey, pretending isn't just for kids! Keep listening and reading for the call for volunteer docents. You can pick the person you would like to portray and have fun while doing an invaluable service for The Stephenson House. Henry will keep you posted on this.
Did you notice that the big, big trailer is gone from 'my' yard? The paint crew emptied it and the next thing I knew EJ had a truck and was moving that big trailer out of here. The paint crew has completed the primer coat on the millwork and walls. And, a fellow by the name of Keith has arrived on the scene. Yep, now there are two Keith's at 'my' house! One is our great brick mason and now the new Keith who is a skilled painter. I enjoy having Keith here. Ol' Henry likes the company and I like the music he works to as he caulks the millwork in preparation for the glaze. Keith knows all about glazing the millwork, having learned the technique from his grandfather and father. Henry overheard Keith tell Joe that his glazing tools, called combs, are the very same combs that his grandfather used. How good it is to have another artisan join in the restoration of Col. Ben's house!


Henry here was sitting upstairs on one of those cold, blowing days before Christmas looking out the window at all of you folks getting ready for Christmas. There were people rushing about buying big bags of groceries, gifts and Christmas trees to decorate. All the excitement of Christmas today got me to thinking about how Col. Ben and Lucy celebrated Christmas long ago. Cousin Jake reminded me that Great- great- great- grandpappy Samuel used to talk about Christmas at the Stephensons.


One thing I do know, and it didn't take Grandpapppy Samuel to tell me, is that the Stephenson family did not have a Christmas tree. The Christmas tree was introduced as a symbol of Christmas after 1850. Ol' Henry knows that we have to thank the Germans and Dutch for making Christmas a magical time for children!
Christmas was celebrated with a feast in most areas of our country when Col. Ben and Lucy began life as a married couple. Grandpappy Samuel told about Lucy growing up celebrating Christmas at her father's fort in Wellsburg, Virginia, where the Christmas feast was of foods somewhat different than the Christmas feasts Lucy later enjoyed in Kaskaskia and Edwardsville. The Wellsburg Christmas celebration was more like a 4th of July celebration with food, sports and games. Christmas day was a holiday when the men did not work but gathered at a public place in the morning where they drank strong beer or generally straight liquor with hot water and sugar as they discussed business or the upcoming shooting matches. The shooting matches and shinny game usually began in the morning and the great sport of the day may have been catching a greased pig. Many of the men enjoyed the game of pitching coppers at a peg.
The women and girls were busy preparing dinner with bear and deer being the main meat Evening brought food, dancing to the violin and telling stories around the fire.
Ol' Grandpappy Samuel said the gifts exchanged were mere trifles. Few toys were made and very few available. The boys would greet people with the greeting "Christmas Gift" and often were rewarded with a small present. A typical present would have been a present of a cake, a penny or some sweetmeat. There were few if any churches in the Wellsburg area and religious observance of Christmas was not given significance until later years.


Grandpappy Samuel spent Christmas with the Stephensons in Kaskaskia from 1809 until 1816. He said the Christmas feast was very much the same as Wellsburg but still different for Col. Ben and Lucy because Kaskaskia and Prairie du Rocher were French settlements with French customs and appetites. The Kaskaskia Christmas feast was celebrated with many kinds of special foods such as oysters and shrimp, meat, vegetables, fruits, cheeses, tarts and wine. Grandpappy Samuel sure was impressed with the oysters and shrimp that came all the way from what is now Louisiana!
In Kaskaskia the Stephenson children soon learned about Pere Noel, who brought Christmas gifts to the French children. The children would place their wooden shoes beside their beds, hoping that Pere Noel would bring them gifts on Christmas morning.

Another delight the Stephenson children must have really enjoyed was the glazed cream puff tower or croquembouche, a French dessert. This was made by baking cream puffs and then stacking them into a tower held together with caramel. Henry thinks this sounds truly scrumptious!!!


How did the Stephenson family celebrate Christmas in Edwardsville? Ol' Henry thinks they probably did a little of each of their worlds. Turkey, deer and other game were plentiful and stored root vegetables were abundant in Edwardsville. Grandpappy Samuel's favorite dish was the dessert trifles made with dried fruit, bread and cake soaked in various liquors and then layered with custard cream. Wow! What about special foods like oysters and shrimp? Ol' Henry says that if Col. Ben and Lucy liked oysters and shrimp they had them when they were in Edwardsville. All they had to do was have their friends Daniel Cook and Ninian Edwards, who still lived in Kaskaskia, have the seafood brought up from Louisiana How about a cream puff tower? If Lucy and Ben enjoyed that delight you better believe their cook knew how to make it.
Henry here has learned a lot from the Stephenson House mouse relatives in Virginia, Kentucky and Missouri about the Christmas day feast and gatherings in their towns. But, I am missing stories about Christmas in Edwardsville. However, Henry has heard that the Edwardsville Spectator was published on December 25, 1819. Surely Hooper Warren was not the only person in Edwardsville who worked on Christmas! The best Ol' Henry can figure is that Christmas in Edwardsville was a day of celebration with each family enjoying traditions brought from their homes in New York, Tennessee, Maryland, Virginia or Kentucky. It's for sure that many celebrated Christmas with the men not working, the women preparing a special feast, played games, religious observance of their choice and a gathering of family and friends. And, if there was enough snow for sleigh riding the day was even more special!


That's all I know for now. Remember The Friends of the Col. Benjamin Stephenson House Annual meeting is on January 20 at 6:00 at Sunset Hills Country Club. Henry here is going to be there to check out the silent auction and see what Sid has cooked up for entertainment. Bet it will be good!! I will see you there - I just have to find a ride!

See ya' later,
Henry


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