Sunday, June 30, 2013

1585 John White shows gourds used by Native Americans in his drawings of Virginia

1585 John White (English artist, c 1540-1593) Indian Woman and Young Girl  Here John White portrays a dried gourd being used as a water container.

Artist John White (English artist, c 1540-1593) visited the Atlantic coast & briefly stayed at Roanoke Island in 1585. According to a note attached to the engraving of one of John White's drawing, “WHEN they have escaped any great danger by sea or lande, or be returned from the warr in token of Joye they mayk a great fyer abowt which the men, and woemen sitt together, holdinge a certaine fruite in their hands like unto a rownde pompion or a gourde, which after they have taken out the fruits, and the seedes, then fill with small stons or certayne bigg kernells to make the more noise, and fasten that uppon a sticke, and singinge after their manner, they make merri”  from The True Pictures and Fashions of the People in that Parte of America Now Called Virginia, Discowred by Englismen Sent Thither in the Years of Our Lorde 1585.

 1585 John White (English artist, c 1540-1593) A Fire Ceremony

Friday, June 28, 2013

The classical Quincunx in Early American gardens

The Quincunx in Early American gardens

The ever practical Charles Carroll of Annapolis, one of the richest men in the British American colonies, advised his son to plant the flat beds on his terraces in the classical quincunx style. With this form, Carroll could present an ordered, ancient design and by planting privet instead of boxwood, the planter could plant practical vegetables in his elegant design.  In 1777, Carroll gave his son privet rather than boxwood to outline his new garden beds & advised him to keep the privet trimmed to a small size, “not to Exceed 12 inches in Width.” Carroll did not want the privet roots to interfere with the smaller vegetables he planned to grow in the beds each season.

Joan Carlile or Carlell (English portrait painter, 1600–1679), Sir Thomas Browne

A quincunx is a geometric pattern consisting of five points arranged with 4 of them forming a square or rectangle and a 5th at its center.  The English alchemist/physician Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682) in his 1658 philosophical discourse The Garden of Cyrus: The Quincunciall, Lozenge, or Network Plantations of the Ancients, naturally, artificially, mystically considered, elaborates on the quincunx pattern in art, nature, & religion as evidence of "the wisdom of God."  Browne claimed that the Persian King Cyrus was the first to plant trees in a quincunx. He also claimed to have discovered, that the form also appeared in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.  Browne saw the regularity of quincunx pattern as creating an orderly world out of nature.  During Roman times this was an important concept. During the Middle Ages, it was one of the patterns used for planting medicinal or exotic plants. Seventeenth century English diarist John Evelyn also wrote in his 1664 Pomona, that the pattern was the best way to lay out apple and pear trees.

A quincunx pattern for an orchard.

On February 3, 1795, the newspaper Newport Mercury (in Newport, RI) advised planting trees in an orchard "in the quincunx manner." On December 24, 1800, the newspaper Universal Gazette (Washington (DC), explained planting trees, "a quincunx, or a square, at the distance of six to eight feet from each other."

Thomas Jefferson’s brother-in-law Henry Skipwith advised a young orchard gardener in 1813, to consult Virgil to learn about a “quincunx, which is nothing more than a square with a tree at each corner and one in the center and thus continued throughout the orchard.” Adopting conservative, classical forms was common in early Chesapeake gardens. Jefferson himself wrote, “I should prefer the adoption of some one of the models of antiquity which have had the approbation of thousands of years.”

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Location, Location, Location...

Up & down the Atlantic coast, where the topography allowed, when gentlemen decided exactly where to build their house, they usually harked back to the traditional defensive habit of building on the high ground. Even when the need for surveying the countryside for marauders had long passed, gentlemen continued to look for the highest situation, in part so that they could remain above, superior, in the minds of others.

1800 Francis Jukes (American artist, 1745–1812)  Mount Vernon

Shortly after he arrived in the United States, British architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe wrote in 1798, ""When you stand upon the summit of a hill, and see an extensive country of woods and fields without interruption spread before you, you look at it with pleasure...this pleasure is perhaps very much derived from a sort of consciousness of superiority of position to all the monotony below you."

Benjamin Latrobe by Charles Willson Peale.

Latrobe (1764-1820) came to the United States in 1796, settling first in Virginia and then relocating to Philadelphia to design the waterworks. In 1803, he was hired as Surveyor of the Public Buildings of the United States & spent much of the next 14 years working on projects in Washington, D.C., where he designed the U S Capitol. Latrobe then traveled to New Orleans to work on a waterworks project and died there of yellow fever in 1820.

Plantation circa 1825, Unknown Artist

Latrobe knew that the situation of the house was meant to impress visitors viewing the surrounding landscape & to impress those passing-by who could only look up & admire the plantation or country seat. When choosing a homesite, gentlemen carefully considered the vistas & views available from the pinnacle of the property, as well as the practical aspects of the situation.

Visitors often used the powerful verb command to describe the placement of a dwelling on a site surrounded with vistas. A house would a view or a prospect. Those passing by would note that houses on high ground were situated on an eminence. Homage was due to the powerful and clever owner.

Francis Guy. Perry Hall near Baltimore, about 1804.

Even when the houses themselves were unfinished or left to decay, impressive sites were still admired. In June of 1760, Andrew Burnaby was traveling through Annapolis and noted, "the governor's palace is not is situated very finely upon an eminence and commands a beautiful view of the town and environs."

Andrew Burnaby (1732-1812) was a well-traveled English clergyman who visited the British American colonies in 1760, and published his travel journal back in England, just as the Revolutionary War was beginning.

c 1759 Moses Gill (1733–1800) by John Singleton Copley (1738–1815)

One of the most amazing descriptions explaining the meaning of the prospect from a gentleman's house to both its owner and to its neighbors, is the description of the home & property of Governor Moses Gill of Massachusettes, as reported by Rev. Peter Whitney in his History of Worcester County, 1793.

Samuel Hill, View of the Seat of the Hon. Moses Gill Esq. at Princeton, in the County of Worcester, reproduced in Massachusetts Magazine, November, 1792.

The magazine reported, Foreigners must have an high idea of the rapid progress of improvement in America, when they are told that the ground which these buildings now cover, and a farm of many hundred acres around it, now under high and profitable cultivation were, in the year 1766, as perfectly wild as the deepest forest of our country. The honourable proprietor must have great satisfaction in seeing Improvements so extensive, made under his own eye, under his own direction, and by his own active industry."

Rev. Whitney wrote his insightful history of Worcester County only a year later, "In this town is the country seat of the Hon. Moses Gill, Esq....His elegant and noble seat...The farm contains upwards Of 3000 acres.The buildings stand upon the highest land of the whole />
"The mansion house is large, being 50 x 50 feet, with four stacks of chimneys; the farm house is 40 x 36 feet; in a line with this stand the coach and chaise house, 50 x 36 feet; this is joined to the barn by a shed 70 feet in length - the barn is two hundred feet by thirty-two.
"The prospect from this seat is extensive and grand, taking in horizon to the east, of seventy miles at least. The blue hills of Milton are discernable with the naked eye, from the windows of this superb edifice, distant not less than sixty miles, as well as the waters of the harbor of Boston, at certain seasons of the year.

"When we view this seat, these buildings, and this farm of so many hundred acres, now under a high degree of cultivation, and are told that in the year 1766 it was a perfect wilderness, we are struck with wonder, admiration and astonishment.

"The honorable proprietor hereof must have great satisfaction in contemplating these improvements, so extensive, made under his direction, and, I may add by his own active industry. Judge Gill is a gentleman of singular vivacity and activity, and indefatigable in his endeavors to bring forward the cultivation of his lands...and deserves great respect and esteem, not only from individuals, but from the town and county he has so greatly benefited, and especially by the ways in which he makes use of that vast estate, wherewith a kind Providence has blessed him.

"Upon the whole, this seat of judge Gill, all the agreeable circumstances respecting it being attentively considered, is not paralleled by any in the New England States; perhaps not by any one this side of Delaware."

1764 Moses Gill by John Singleton Copley (1738–1815) 

A description of George Washington's home on the Virginia side of the Potomac River appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette just after his death. The account described the view from his porch, "A lofty portico, 96 feet in length, supported by 8 pillars, has a pleasing effect when viewed from the water...On the opposite extensive plain, exhibiting corn-fields and cattle grazing, affords in summer a luxuriant landscape; while the blended verdure of woodlands and cultivated declivities, on the Maryland shore, variegates the prospect in a charming manner."

A variety of terms appear in contemporary descriptions of houses and grounds shedding light on the importance of the impressive view. I want to devote the next few blog postings to these terms, as they were used by visitors & observers in colonial British America & the early republic.

For a discussion of concepts parallel to those noted in the 1793 Whitney History of Worcester County relating to the landscape of Moses Gill's property plus Ralph Earl's 1800 painting Looking East from Denny Hill, see David R. Brigham's article at Brigham is the curator of American art at the Worcester Art Museum in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Choice Beets

John Buss, who has no superior, and but few equals, as a gardener, has our thanks for some choice beets.

-from the Robinson Argus, Crawford County, Illinois, 1888

More than you ever wanted to know about beet plants & their roots...

The usually deep red roots of beetroot are eaten either grilled, boiled, or roasted as a cooked vegetable, cold as a salad after cooking and adding oil and vinegar, or raw and shredded, either alone or combined with any salad vegetable.

In Eastern Europe, beet soup, such as borscht, is a popular dish.

In Indian cuisine, chopped, cooked, spiced beet is a common side dish. Yellow-coloured beetroots are grown on a very small scale for home consumption.

Swiss chard, garden beets, stock beets, or mangel-wurzels, and sugar beets all belong to the same species (Beta vulgaris) and will intercross readily. The pollen is wind-borne and may fertilize the pistillate flowers of any plant of the same species over long distances.

The species is a biennial that grows best in a cool climate.

Chard, as Americans use the term, applies specifically to the leaf beet (Beta vulgaris variety cicla), or beet that develops no enlarged, fleshy root.

The Romans called this plant beta, the Arabs selg, and the Portuguese selga-apparently an adaptation of the Arabic name.

The wild beet occurs widely over the Mediterranean lands, Asia Minor, the Caucasus, and the Near East. It is believed to have originated in the Mediterranean area, spreading eastward in prehistoric times, with a secondary region of development in the Near East.

The leaves of the various kinds of beets in ancient times were harvested from the wild for use as a potherb.

In the 4th century B.C., Aristotle wrote of red chard, and Theophrastus mentioned light-green and dark-green kinds. The Romans as well as the Greeks knew chard well and wrote frequently of its use. It was apparently unknown in the Far East until the Middle Ages, being mentioned in China only from the 7th century. The lack of a Sanskrit name for chard suggests that it was spread from west to east after truly ancient times.

Chard has been used in Europe for as long as there are definite records of food plants there. In the 13th century a German writer used the name acelga (selga is still used in Spain and Portugal), indicating that it was well established in the Iberian Peninsula. In the 16th century a Swiss botanist described a yellow form, the latest to be recorded, completing the list of types now known.

Beets of the types that produce large, fleshy, edible roots were unknown before the Christian Era. The ancients used the root of the wild beet or chard apparently for medicinal purposes only.

In the 2nd and 3rd centuries the Roman epicures first gave recipes for cooking the root of Beta vulgaris, some claiming it was better food than cabbage. This must have referred to a fleshy root, not the hard, fibrous root of chard, although the roots in question were probably selected from wild plants.

The next known record about beet root was among some 14th-century English recipes, revealing its use in England.

The red beet with a turniplike root was first described as a food plant in Germany in 1558 and was a rarity at that time in northern Europe. The improved beet was called "Roman beet" in the 16th century in northern Europe and France, indicating its introduction from Italy.

All through the 17th and 18th centuries very few kinds of garden beets were known; and they remained unimportant. Up to about 1800 only two kinds, Red and Long Red, were listed by English seedsmen. Popularity on the Continent grew faster than in the British Isles.

In the United States in 1806 only one variety-Red-was listed in a leading catalogue, but in 1828 four kinds were listed.

The Bassano variety, still grown today, was common in Italy more than a hundred years ago.

The Flat Egyptian, an American production, also cultivated today, was first grown around Boston about 1869. Other varieties grown in America are of more recent introduction.

Colors of garden-beet varieties may range all the way from extremely dark purplish red to bright vermilion and to white. The roots of some varieties, when cut transversely, show distinct light and dark rings, even white alternating with red or purple, like a target.

Beetroot can be peeled, steamed, and then eaten warm with butter as a delicacy; cooked, pickled, and then eaten cold as a condiment; or peeled, shredded raw, and then eaten as a salad. Pickled beets are a traditional food of the American South. It is also common in Australia and New Zealand for pickled beetroot to be served on a hamburger.

A traditional Pennsylvania Dutch dish is red beet eggs. Hard-boiled eggs are refrigerated in the liquid left over from pickling beets and allowed to marinate until the eggs turn a deep pink-red color.

In Poland, beet is combined with horseradish to form popular Ćwikła z chrzanem, which is often added to a meal consisting of meat, potatoes and a salad.

Beet pulp is fed to horses that are in vigorous training or conditioning and to those that may be allergic to dust from hay.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

James Peale (1749-1831) Still Lifes

1795 Detail. James Peale (1739-1741). Artist & His Family. Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia.

 James Peale (1749-1831) painted miniatures, portraits, & historical paintings in his early career. By the turn of the century, he began to explore still lifes & landscapes. Between this period & the end of his life, when he painted the fearsome sublime in landscapes of thunderstorms, violently uprooted trees, & towering mountains, Peale painted exquisite neo-classical still lifes.
James Peale, who straddles both the 18th & 19th century, painted many of the fruits & vegetables grown in American gardens in the early 19th century. Here are a few of my favorites.

James Peale (1749-1831). A Porcelain Bowl with Fruit.

James Peale (1749-1831). Still Life with An Abundance of Fruit.

James Peale (1749-1831). c 1820 Still Life Balsam Apples and Vegetables.

James Peale (1749-1831). c 1824 Still Life.

James Peale (1749-1831). c 1824 Still Life with Chinese Basket.

James Peale (1749-1831). c 1824 Still Life with Chinese Export Basket.

James Peale (1749-1831). c 1824 Still Life with Watermelon.

James Peale (1749-1831). c 1829 Still Life.

James Peale (1749-1831). c 1829 Still Life with Fruit on a Tabletop.

James Peale (1749-1831). Fruit in a Basket.

James Peale (1749-1831). Fruits of Autumn.

James Peale (1749-1831). Still Life with Apples, Grapes, Pear.

James Peale (1749-1831). Still Life with Grapes and Apples on a Plate.

James Peale (1749-1831). Vegetable Still Life.

Friday, June 21, 2013

1764 Fennel - Virginian John Randolph's 1727-1784 Treatise on Gardening 1764

A Treatise on Gardening Written by a native of this State (Virginia)
Author was John Randolph (1727-1784)
Written in Williamsburg, Virginia about 1765
Published by T. Nicolson, Richmond, Virginia. 1793
The only known copy of this booklet is found in the Special Collections of the Wyndham Robertson Library at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia.


Fennel, Faeniculum. This may be propagated from seed or the plants, as Featherfew, and nothing more is necessary than to keep it from seedling, because it will overrun the garden; the roots being very strong, continue a long while in the ground.

A little more about fennel that was not in Randolph's short description.


Fennel was well known to the Ancients and was cultivated by the ancient Romans for its aromatic fruits and succulent, edible shoots. Pliny had much faith in its medicinal properties, according no less than 22 remedies to it, observing also that serpents eat it 'when they cast their old skins, and they sharpen their sight with the juice by rubbing against the plant.'

A very old English rhyming Herbal, preserved at Stockholm, gives the following description of the virtue of the plant:
'Whaune the heddere (adder) is hurt in eye
Ye red fenel is hys prey,
And yif he mowe it fynde
Wonderly he doth hys kynde.
He schall it chow wonderly,
And leyn it to hys eye kindlely,
Ye jows shall sang and hely ye eye
Yat beforn was sicke et feye.'
Many of the older herbalists uphold this theory of the peculiarly strengthening effect of this herb on the sight.
Longfellow alludes to this virtue in the plant:
'Above the lower plants it towers,
The Fennel with its yellow flowers;
And in an earlier age than ours
Was gifted with the wondrous powers
Lost vision to restore.'

In mediaeval times, Fennel was employed, together with St. John's Wort and other herbs, as a preventative of witchcraft and other evil influences, being hung over doors on Midsummer's Eve to warn off evil spirits. It was likewise eaten as a condiment to the salt fish so much consumed by our forefathers during Lent.

Though the Romans valued the young shoots as a vegetable, it is not certain whether it was cultivated in northern Europe at that time, but it is frequently mentioned in Anglo-Saxon cookery and medical recipes prior to the Norman Conquest.

Fennel shoots, Fennel water and Fennel seed are all mentioned in an ancient record of Spanish agriculture dating A.D. 961.

The diffusion of the plant in Central Europe was stimulated by Charlemagne, who enjoined its cultivation on the imperial farms.

It is mentioned in Gerard (1597), and Parkinson (Theatricum Botanicum, 1640) tells us that its culinary use was derived from Italy, for he says: 'The leaves, seede and rootes are both for meate and medicine; the Italians especially doe much delight in the use thereof, and therefore transplant and whiten it, to make it more tender to please the taste, which being sweete and somewhat hot helpeth to digest the crude qualitie of fish and other viscous meats. We use it to lay upon fish or to boyle it therewith and with divers other things, as also the seeds in bread and other things.'

William Coles, in Nature's Paradise (1650) affirms that 'both the seeds, leaves and root of ourGarden Fennel are much used in drinks and broths for those that are grown fat, to abate their unwieldiness and cause them to grow more gaunt and lank.'

The ancient Greek name of the herb, Marathron, from maraino, to grow thin, probably refers to this property. It was said to convey longevity, and to give strength and courage.

Milton, in Paradise Lost alludes to the aroma of the plant:
'A savoury odour blown,
Grateful to appetite, more pleased my sense
Than smell of sweetest Fennel.'

The odor of Fennel seed is fragrant, its taste, warm, sweet and agreeably aromatic. It yields its virtues to hot water, but more freely to alcohol. The essential oil may be separated by distillation with water.

It was formerly the practice to boil Fennel with all fish, and it was mainly cultivated in kitchen gardens for this purpose.

It is one of the plants which is said to be disliked by fleas, and powdered Fennel has the effect of driving away fleas from kennels and stables.

Culpepper says: 'One good old custom is not yet left off, viz., to boil fennel with fish, for it consumes the phlegmatic humour which fish most plentifully afford and annoy the body with, though few that use it know wherefore they do it. It benefits this way, because it is a herb of Mercury, and under Virgo, and therefore bears antipathy to Pisces. Fennel expels wind, provokes urine, and eases the pains of the stone, and helps to break it. The leaves or seed boiled in barley water and drunk, are good for nurses, to increase their milk and make it more wholesome for the child. The leaves, or rather the seeds, boiled in water, stayeth the hiccup and taketh away nausea or inclination to sickness. The seed and the roots much more help to open obstructions of the liver, spleen, and gall, and thereby relieve the painful and windy swellings of the spleen, and the yellow jaundice, as also the gout and cramp. The seed is of good use in medicines for shortness of breath and wheezing, by stoppings of the lungs. The roots are of most use in physic, drinks and broths, that are taken to cleanse the blood, to open obstructions of the liver, to provoke urine, and amend the ill colour of the face after sickness, and to cause a good habit through the body; both leaves, seeds, and roots thereof, are much used in drink, or broth, to make people more lean that are too fat. A decoction of the leaves and root is good for serpent bites, and to neutralize vegetable poison, as mushrooms, etc.'

In Italy and France, the tender leaves are often used for garnishes and to add flavour to salads, and are also added, finely chopped, to sauces served with puddings.

Roman bakers are said to put the herb under their loaves in the oven to make the bread taste agreeably.

John Evelyn, in his Acetaria (1680), held that the peeled stalks, soft and white, of the cultivated garden Fennel, when dressed like celery exercised a pleasant action conducive to sleep.

Formerly poor people used to eat Fennel to satisfy the cravings of hunger on fast days and make unsavoury food palatable; it was also used in large quantities in the households of the rich, as may be seen by the record in the accounts of Edward I.'s household, 8 1/2 lb. of Fennel were bought for one month's supply.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Making Beer in 19th-century America

New Yorker John Nicholson wrote about early American beer in The Farmer's Assistant in 1820,

"To make Spruce beer. Boil some spruce boughs with some wheat-bran till the water tastes sufficiently of the spruce; strain the water, and stir in at the rate of 2 quarts of molasses to a half-barrel; work it with the emptyings of beer, or with yeast if you have it. After working sufficiently, bung up the cask, or, which is better, bottle its contents.

"To make Molasses beer. Take 5 pounds of molasses, half a pint of yeast, and a spoonful of powdered ginger; put these into a vessel, and pour on 2 gallons of scalding hot soft water; shake the whole till a fermentation is produced; then add of the same kind of water sufficient to fill up your half barrel...Let the liquor ferment about twelve hours; then bottle it, with a raisin or 2 in each bottle.

"If honey instead of molasses be used, at the rate of about 12 pounds to the barrel, it will make a very fine beverage, after having been bottled a while.

"To make Beer with Hops. Take 5 quarts of wheatbran and three ounces of hops, and boil them 15 minutes in 15 gallons of water; strain the liquor; add 2 quarts of molasses; cool it quickly to about the temperature of new milk, and put it into your half barrel, having the cask completely filled. Leave the bung out for 24 hours, in order that the yeast may be worked off and thrown out; and then the beer will be fit for use. About the 5th day, bottle off what remains in the cask, or it will turn sour, if the weather be warm. If the cask be new, apply yeast, or beer-emptyings, to bring on the fermentation; but, if it has been in this use before, that will not be necessary.

"Yeast, particularly the whiter part, is much fiter to be used for fermenting, than the mere grounds of the beerbarrel ; and the same may be observed, in regard to its use in fermenting dough for bread.

"To recover a cask of stale Small beer. Take some hops and some chalk broken to pieces; put them in a bag, and put them in at the bunghole, and then stop up the cask closely. Let the proportion be 2 ounces of hops and a pound of chalk for a half-barrel.

"To cure a cask of Beer. Mix 2 handsful of beanflour with one handful of salt, and stir it in.

"To feed a cask of Beer. Bake a rye-loaf well nutmeged; cut it in pieces, and put it in a narrow bag with some hops and some wheat, and put the bag into the cask at the bunghole.

"To clarify Beer. For a half-barrel, take about 6 ounces of chalk, burn it, and put it into the cask. This will disturb the liquor and fine it in 24 hours.  It is also recommended, in some cases, to dissolve some loaf-sugar and add to the above ingredients.

"We omit going into any description of the method of making strongbeer, as the necessity for it among Farmers, as a household beverage, seems to be greatly obviated by that of smallbeer, which is much less intoxicating, and by cider, a stronger drink, which is readily afforded from apple-orchards, which are more or less natural to almost every part ot the United States, except a little of its southern border, where the grape can be cultivated to advantage...

"It is indeed true, that many Farmers in Great Britain brew their own strongbeer; but there is but little of that country where apple-orchards are natural...It is an expensive liquor tor the Farmer to make much use of, as it requires 4 bushels of malt to make a barrel, even of common ale, and 8, for a barrel of beer ot the strongest kind."

Monday, June 17, 2013

A brief history of Croquet in the Garden & the fashions that followed

 Johann Mongles Culverhouse (Dutch-born American painter, 1825-1895) Croquet

Croquet is, like pall mall, trucco, jeu de mail & kolven, clearly a derivative of ground billiards, which was popular in Western Europe back to at least the 14th century, with roots in classical antiquity.  Researchers claim that both golf & croquet evolved from these ancient sports, and that billiards was a modified inside game of croquet.

1650 'Le Centre de l'Amour, Decouvert Soubs Divers Emblesmes Galans et Facetieux' was first published (by Chez Cupidon) c 1650.

Some researchers believe the game was introduced to Britain from France during the reign of Charles II of England, & was played under the name of paille-maille or pall mall, derived ultimately from Latin words for "ball and mallet."

 1626 Adrian van de Veen Frederick V, Elector Palatine on the Maliebaen in Den Haag

Played during the 17th century by Charles II & his courtiers at St. James's Park in London, the name of the game was anglicized to Pall Mall, which also became the name of a nearby street. "Mall" then evolved into a generic word for any street used for public gathering & strollings.

The Pall Mall at St James, London, from a 17th century map by Faithhorne

In his 1810 book entitled The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England, Joseph Strutt describes the way pall mall was played in England in the early 17th century: "Pale-maille is a game wherein a round box ball is struck with a mallet through a high arch of iron, which he that can do at the fewest blows, or at the number agreed upon, wins. It is to be observed, that there are two of these arches, that is one at either end of the alley."

David Johnson (American artist, 1827-1908) Croquet on the Lawn

In Samuel Johnson's 1828 dictionary, he defines the game, "A play in which the ball is struck with a mallet through an iron ring."

Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836-1910)  Croquet

A similar game was played on the beaches of Brittany.  Some researches believe that the rules of the modern game of croquet arrived from Ireland during the 1850s, perhaps after being brought there from Brittany. Records show the similar game of "crookey" being played at Castlebellingham in 1834, which was introduced to Galway in 1835 & played on the bishop's palace garden, and in the same year to the genteel Dublin suburb of Kingstown (today Dún Laoghaire) where it was first spelled "croquet."

Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836-1910) Croquet Players

The oldest document to bear the word "croquet" with a description of the modern game is the set of rules registered by Isaac Spratt in November 1856 with the Stationers' Company in London.

1866 The Game of Croquet Published by Harper's Weekly. 1866 detail

The tale is that the game traveled from Ireland to England around 1851.  An unidentified Miss MacNaghten observed peasants in France playing a game with hoops made of willow rods & mallets of broomsticks inserted into pieces of wood & introduced it in Ireland.  Sometime around 1850, she passed the idea to a Mr. Spratt and the result was Spratt's rules for croquet published in 1851.  Spratt then passed the game on to John Jacques; who claimed that he made equipment from patterns he bought in Ireland & had published rules, before Spratt introduced the subject to him.  Whatever the case, Jacques was the first to make equipment as a regular business; and in 1864, published his first comprehensive code of laws. 

1870 Croquet Published in Every Saturday An Illustrated Journal of choice Reading, Boston

At first, croquet was most popular among women,  It was a new experience for them to be able to play a game outdoors in the company of men.  Early games of croquet were carefully chaperoned.   The game's popularity grew in the 1860's, where garden parties began to be called croquet parties.

1870 Croqueting the Rover.  Published in Every Saturday An Illustrated Journal of Choice Reading. Boston

1868 saw the formation of the All England Croquet Club with the purpose of creating an official body to control the game and unify the laws.  They needed to find a ground, and in 1869 leased four acres in Wimbledon. 

1871 Preparing for Croquet published in Harper's Weekly, New York, July 22, 1871.

In 1875, one lawn at the club was set aside for exciting new game of lawn tennis, which was gaining popularity much more quickly than croquet.  In April, 1877 the club name was changed to the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club; and in July, 1877 the first lawn tennis championship was held at Wimbledon. 

1872 The Last Croquet Game of the Summer published in Harper's Bazar, New York, Nov. 2, 1872.

Croquet began to decline as tennis grew & proved to be more of a money maker.  In 1882, croquet was deleted from the club title.  However, croquet continued & went through a regrowth.  In 1899, the name was restyled again to to the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club which it remains today.


While croquet was on the decline in England, it was beginning to be the latest rage in America. Croquet equipment was advertised in the New York Clipper in 1862.  In a story of an elopment in the November, 1864 issue of Godey's Ladies Book, they described the intended bride, "her petite figure and dove-like eyes caused her at once to become "the rage of the park, the ball-room, the opera, and the croquet lawn." In 1865, the Newport Croquet Club was formed in Rhode Island.  The April 1865, Godey's Ladies Book published a few rules for the game declaring, "As this game is now becoming very fashionable, we give some of the rules that govern it."

1862 John Leech (English artist, 1817-1864) Croquet

When Vassar College opened , an announcement Godey's Lady's Book. August, 1865, stated, "The play-grounds are ample and secluded; and the apparatus required for...such simple feminine sports as archery, croquet (or ladies' cricket), graces, shuttlecocks, etc. will be supplied by the college."  In the same issue, the magazine explained, "A NEW and fashionable amusement for the ladies may be found in the game of croquet , which is fast winning its way into the favor and esteem of all who make its acquaintance. It is a delightful game; it gives grace to the movements of the players; it can be played on any little grass-plot, and the implements of the game are becoming so cheap as to place them within the reach of all. Boys and girls, young men and maidens, and (as we do know), a good many older ones, find in it a most healthful and fascinating out-door recreation."  Two months later, the magazine noted, "Among the late novelties we notice pocket-handkerchiefs having a lady in croquet dress with mallet in hand, embroidered in gay colors in the corner."

1865 John Leech (English artist, 1817-1864)A Nice Game For Two Or More

By April of the next year, Godey's was featuring a croquet dress in one of its fashion plates, "Croquet dress of black alpaca, trimmed round the edge of the skirt, up the front, and up each breadth, with bands of green silk cut out in points. The basque is made quite long, slit up to the waist at the back, and turned over with green silk both back and front. The sleeves are trimmed with points of green silk to match the skirt, and the corsage is turned back, in revers, showing a fine worked chemisette. Hat of black straw, trimmed with a puffing of green silk, and a long white plume."

1867 Philip Hermogenes Calderon (French-born English painter,1833-1898) Resting in the Shade after a game of Croquet

Milton Bradley & Co in 1866, published "Croquet - It's Principles and Rules." In February of 1867, Godey's explaned that croquet, "requires for its full development a level ground of well-mown and well-rolled grass (unless all are equally acquainted with the inequalities, when slight undulations may add to the interest of the game); but it can be played on the sand of the sea-shore where it is hard and level, or upon well-rolled grave, or asphalte covered with a thin layer of fine broken shells."

John Sartain (1808-1897) Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885), the 18th President of the United States (1869–1877) with his family

Later in 1867, a New York newspaper editorialized, "never in the history of outdoor sports in this country had any game achieved so sudden a popularity with both sexes, but especially with the ladies, as Croquet has."

 1870 The All-England Croquet Club at Wimbledon Ladies Sport Croquet Illustrated London News

The Delaware County Republican newspaper of July 10, 1868. carried an announcement of a variety of wooden croquet sets for sale, "BOX WOOD, Rose Wood, Lignum Vitae, Rock Maple, and less expensive sets of Croquet Games." By 1869, churches were offering croquet to their guests. The Delaware County American announced on June 2, 1869, next to the Maple Church, "a strawberry and ice cream FESTIVAL, provided and served by ladies...a Concert, Vocal and Instrumental ...also, a croquet lawn, with the requisite conveniences." When the strawberries ripened the following June, the church ladies once again offered their festival including croquet. The popularity of croquet was growing by leaps and bounds in post Civil War America.

1871 Edouard Manet (French painter, 1832-1883)  Partie de Croquet à Boulogne–sur–Mer

 In 1882, a convention in New York of 25 clubs formed the National American Croquet Association. Croquet was introduced as an Olympic sport in the 1900 Paris games. Early 1900 American croquet leaders disagreed with many of the new English rules which outlawed mallets with heads made of rubber & had introduced the 6-wicket court layout. They kept the 9-wicket version & short handled mallets with heads of metal face on one end and rubber on the other. The Americans introduced their version of 9-wicket croquet at the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis which was won by an American but never played in the Olympics again.

1871 The Illustrated London News  Croquet Under Difficulties.

1872 Louise Abbéma (1853-1927), A Game of Croquet at Trouville

1875 Oneida Community, New York

Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836-1910) Croquet Scene

 1872 Une Partie De Croquet, engraving by Paul Girardet

1873 Edouard Manet (French painter, 1832-1883)  The Croquet Game

 1876 James H Holly Residence, Warwick, NY

1873 John George Brown (American genre artist, 1831-1913) Have a Game

John E Williams Residence, Irvington, NY

1873 Never Too Old To Play Croquet Nor Yet Too Young  August Published for Harper's Weekly, New York

1876 A game of croquet on the front lawn of Perry Guile's house in Milo, New York

 1878  James Tissot (French artist, 1836-1902) Croquet

Prince and Princess of Wales playing croquet The Illustrated London News

1880 Valentine showing a woman playing croquet

 1885 A game of croquet without rules. Harper's young people.

1889 Léon Benett, Fortuné-Louis Méaulle Croquet

1892 Pierre Bonnard (French painter, 1867-1947)  Crespuscule ou La Partie de Croquet

1901 Seaside Games

1904 Anna Whelan Betts (American illustrator, 1875–1952) Croquet

1915 Chatterbox Magazine

Percy W. Gibbs (English Painter, active c 1895-1925)  Ladies playing croquet

Victorian Trading Card Girl Playing Croquet Walkers Wax Soap in Sleeve

William Crawford Arsa (Scottish paintre, 1825-69). Eliza Anne Lochart (Nana), William Frederick (Bill) and John Henry Middleton playing croquet in a garden before a cornfield

William McGregor Paxton (American painter, 1869-1941) The Croquet Players

Croquet Fashions for players and observers

Croquet grew in popularity with women during the 1860s; however, the sport was hampered by their heavy, full skirts & the crinolines worn underneath.  Many women took to looping up their skirts to prevent soiling them or brushing against the croquet balls. Designers began to have the exposed petticoats develop tabs to button up the skirts, & the hems on croquet dresses became increasingly bold & decorative. In 1864, one croquet player advised, “the dress should be looped up, or not only will it spoil many a good stroke, but with its sweeping train will probably disturb the position of some of the balls.” 

1860s Walking and croquet dress, Le Diable Rose

1865 September fashions, 1865 France, Cendrillon
1866 Godey's fashions for [April 1866] Kimmel & Forster N.Y.

1870 Les modes parisiennes  Peterson's magazine, July, 1870.

1881 American Fashion Croquet Dresses

1883 Childrens Country Costumes from The Queen.

Le Monde Elegant

Photo of Croquet Players 1860s