Revisited Myth # 56: Quilters put a mistake in each quilt to show their humility.

August 29, 2015


While we’re on the subject of quilts (last week’s post), how about the claim above? Or this one: The Amish made mistakes in their quilts on purpose because “only God is perfect.” Never mind that Amish quilters have strongly denied this custom.

Quilt historians are a careful bunch, and they take unproven claims very seriously. One went looking for the origins of this “humility block” legend and found the earliest reference dated to 1949. No sources from the 1800s like diaries or letters or published materials mention a practice like this, and no oral tradition could be traced. Perhaps the idea got started when people noticed an odd placement of a piece of fabric or a change in color and wondered whether it was done on purpose. For more information from quilt historians, see and scroll down a bit until you reach “humility” blocks. 

There is a similar myth that goes with Persian rugs. Supposedly the weaver makes a mistake on purpose so as not to offend Allah. And see below for another that involves Native Americans and the Great Spirit.

Ask any quilter, Amish or not, and they’ll tell you that they make plenty of mistakes without even trying!


Previous comments:

Mark M
Submitted on 2014/01/11 at 10:41 pm
I heard a similar story decades ago from Native American beadworkers who frequented the bead store I worked at. Basically, that nothing in the world created by the Great Spirit was perfect, and that in humility, no one should attempt to outdo the Great Spirit. Therefore, if one’s creation came out flawlessly, a tiny flaw should be deliberately introduced at the very end.

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Brian Stanley
Submitted on 2011/10/11 at 4:10 pm
Navajo rug makers deliberately leave an opening in closed rectangle patterns to avoid trapping evil spirits / energies in the rug.

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Alden O’Brien
Submitted on 2011/07/13 at 11:51 am | In reply to marymiley.
oh my! So much for my staying under the radar. So glad you enjoyed our exhibit. Do you know all our quilts are visible online at Great site. Also we have a book out this month of a selection of some of our “greatest hits” of the quilt collection published by Martha Pullen Co, available on her website or in our museum shop (am working on wider distribution to other shops, but it’ll never be on Amazon….)meanwhile I’m subscribing to you. I consider one of my vocational duties is myth-busting!–A

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Submitted on 2011/07/13 at 11:47 am | In reply to Alden O’Brien.
Thanks should also go to you, Alden. You’re the one(s) who inspired me, with the DAR’s marvelous exhibit back in 2006.

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Alden O’Brien
Submitted on 2011/07/13 at 11:39 am
thanks for tackling this and other quilt myths!
Alden O’Brien, a curator

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Lisa Sansone
Submitted on 2011/07/12 at 9:58 am
That is excellent. I do counted cross stitch, among other things, and I have to tell you that it’s not hard to make a mistake. Sometimes, you can’t find the mistake in backtracking, so you’re stuck working around it. I’m sure that the Amish feel the same way. Or, if there is a different piece of fabric, it could be possible, in a cruel world, that the lady ran out of the matching fabric, and had to weasel in another!

Revisited Myth #55: African-American quilts were really secret codes meant to guide escaping slaves through the Underground Railroad.

August 21, 2015


Few history myths have origins so recent or so clear as the quilt code myth. We know who started it, who publicized it, and who is profiting from it. We also know the overwhelming body of evidence against it. This myth caught on quickly, thanks in part to teachers and librarians looking for an imaginative way to teach children about slavery, especially during February (Black History Month).

If you haven’t heard this humdinger, it focuses on quilt patterns that supposedly contained secret messages that would guide slaves along the Underground Railroad route. For instance, the Monkey Wrench pattern, when displayed on a line in the slave quarters, supposedly meant “Gather up tools and prepare to flee.” Quilt experts, academic historians, and museum curators all over the country have exposed this myth as a hoax. None of the various claims have been substantiated, and all are contradicted by facts, for instance, several of the quilt patterns that are supposed to have had hidden meanings didn’t even exist before the Civil War. (The Dresden Plate design is late 19th century; the Wedding Ring, pictured above, dates from 1920.) The examples of slave-made quilts with the secret code are all recently made; no independently-documented example has ever been found. Firsthand accounts from people like Harriet Tubman and other slaves (some of which were collected in the 1930s by WPA writers), do not mention anything about this quilt code, even when referencing quilts, as Tubman did.

Kate Clifford Larson, a historian and expert on Harriet Tubman, the former slave who returned to Maryland again and again to help friends and relatives escape, wrote, “She (Tubman) never used the quilt code. The quilt code is another myth created in the last 20 years. It is not true and everyone should know that. The truth is people who ran away used their great intelligence and took great risks to flee, and they used networks of people who were willing to help. Some people did not get any help; they just ran away and got to freedom on their own.”

This persistent fairy tale is too profitable to kill off. It has spawned several children’s books, a money-making lecture circuit, sales of quilt-code designs to quilt makers, and sales of quilts to tourists. It is even—horror of horrors—morphing into other cultures. Someone has claimed that Native Americans made coded quilts, another that German Jews made coded quilts to warn others about Nazis. All such stories have been debunked by reputable experts who have, on occasion, been accused of racism when they dared to point out the fallacies. 

There is a lesson here—If you want to start a history myth, be sure to include the word “code” or “secret” in it. This is guaranteed to get you lots of attention, as we are all suckers for secret messages, conspiracies, codes, and plots.

Over the years, Leigh Fellner has researched and written an exhaustive, impressive rebuttal of the quilt code myths that you can read in its very interesting entirety at

Revisited Myth # 54: Many houses and roads in America were built with bricks and stones carried here as ballast in the holds of ships.

August 14, 2015


(Thanks to Eric P. Olsen of Morristown National Historical Park for suggesting this one.)

The nature of the North American tobacco trade meant that many incoming ships had to carry ballast to America. There was more cargo going east across the Atlantic from tobacco-producing colonies than coming west. Tobacco was a huge export that filled many ships to England; incoming ships were sometimes only partially loaded with imports. Ballast, carried near the keel, was necessary to keep the ship upright.

Because of very sensible laws against dumping ballast in a river or at a port, ship captains knew to take ballast that they could unload and sell, even for a small amount of money. Records show that bricks were sometimes used, as was slate, coal, and flagstones, even though such things were available in the colonies.

However, the quantities imported were relatively small (for instance, 1757 records mention “ten thousand bricks” or “100 feet of flagstone”) making it unlikely any house or building could be built entirely from ballast. Here’s what I was able to turn up talking/writing to historians in the following cities and states.

As far as paving roads, no evidence for that exists in colonial Virginia. Williamsburg, Virginia, had no paved roads until the early 20th century. In Annapolis, Maryland, photographs of the city shows streets there were still unpaved in the 1860s, and bordered with curbs and sidewalks (but no paving) in the 1880s. Clearly, the tale that these streets were paved with ballast is untrue. In Charleston, S.C., streets were similarly unpaved: in 1791 Washington noted “streets of sand,” and any ballast paving could not have occurred before independence. In Nantucket, this myth is “island lore” without any concrete evidence. In a 1961 study, historians were “able to turn up no evidence that any whaling ship ever sailed into Nantucket harbor without a cargo so that ballast was necessary to keep the vessel low in the water.” Some evidence exists that Nantucket purchased paving stones in 1837, probably from Gloucester, MA. In Savannah, this claim is made for the streets that go to the river; but paved streets didn’t appear until 1883, a date after which little ballast entered the port. Ballast stones were, however, used as foundations of buildings of riverfront warehouses and some retaining walls (Factors Walk Retaining Wall) built in the mid-1800s. After 1882, the use of ballast declined to the point that the city was obliged to purchase stones. If anyone knows about other colonies, please chime in!

Kathy Nichols, Executive Director of the Heritage Society of New Braunfels in Texas writes about a related myth. “My docents are saying that English ironstone was made for ship’s ballast. Yep, they are telling people that’s why ironstone was made. It is even printed in the book offered by my site…so you can understand that they are loathe to put their trust in a new director about such a catchy myth. I’ve actually heard this story at a number of other sites but am not able to uncover articles similar to yours about this topic yet. If you know of anything, please send me in that direction.”

Ironstone, or stoneware dishes, was legitimate cargo, much desired in the American colonies. Josiah Wedgwood and other manufacturers made such pottery by the boatload and shipped it all over the world. It was heavy, yes, but not ballast. Keep telling them, Kathy.

21 Responses to MYTH # 54: Many houses and roads in America were built with bricks and stones carried here as ballast in the holds of ships.

Crispinius says:
June 25, 2011 at 5:28 pm (Edit)
Boy,…making ironstone crockery for the express purpose of ships’ ballast makes about as much sense as saying that making shot and cannonballs was for the same purpose aboard a man-of-war.

Yes,…heavy things are certainly loaded lowest in a ship’s hold, just like any good truck driver knows to load the heaviest pallets in the bottom of his trailer, and lighter things above. But to jump from that to saying that it was made for that purpose?,…well, I would put the burthen of proof on the person saying it. “Show me the primary documentation for it (viz. – not your site’s book, which is, of course, secondary documentation).”

As far as paving with ballast stones or bricks,…I know that Stone Street, (or Duke Street as it was officially known for decades) is a street in Manhattan, NY that apparently got its colloquial name in 1656 from being paved. [BTW – The Belgian blocks on Stone Street now are new construction.] That is the earliest I have heard of street paving in the American colonies. Philadelphia began paving some streets (ostensibly at Mr. Franklin’s suggestion) in the 1760’s.

Beyond that, though, I don’t know of many paved streets. Williamsburg, formerly the capital of the most populous of His Majesty’s 32 North American colonies, apparently had no street paving until the 1920’s. During the 18th-Century, when these ships were bringing ballast over, it was described as “a filthy town” and visitors from England weren’t too impressed with its streets.

There was a town on the south side of the James River, near Grays Creek, called “Cobham,” which was apparently a vibrant little community. Today it is primarily farmland. I found it interesting in doing research on the place that Grays Creek became unnavigable because of ballast dumped at its mouth. Some of that ballast was carried off (for building projects, perhaps?), but apparently a bunch of it is still there. I guess not everybody was so prudent about where the ballast went.

I would love to read others’ take on these things, as my research on this topic, although extensive, is not exhaustive. For now, though, I think I’ll go have a pint of ale in my ironstone mug…

Brett Walker, Shoemaker-Historian

Mara says:
June 26, 2011 at 1:24 pm (Edit)
Ha! I don’t think there were many roads and, especially, houses made from ballast (the bricks of which were called bastard bricks because none of them matched and would be difficult to lay them in a masonry fashion because they were uneven), however, there are some that still do exist. One such place is Fell’s Point in Baltimore, Maryland. There are still sections of the streets that are paved with blond Belgium block used as ballast from the European ships. And there is a house in Fell’s Point, 1611 Lancaster Street, where one can still see the bastard bricks that the side and back of the house are made of. Also, in Lisbon, Portugal, the streets and some sidewalks are paved with the ballast from ships as well. I almost broke an ankle walking them in heels when I was there! Interestingly enough, there is also something called a ballast hopper which is a railroad car that carries the “ballast” that lays between the rails of the railroad. Now, I do not know if these cars actually carried true ballast from ships to use in the railroad or if this is just a holdover of the terminology…a surprising amount of acquatic terminology is used in the railway.

marymiley says:
June 27, 2011 at 9:55 am (Edit)
Thanks Mara. That’s very interesting!

marymiley says:
June 27, 2011 at 10:05 am (Edit)
Mara, one thing . . . could you clarify that address in Fell’s Point? I looked on Google Maps to see the house at 1611 Lancaster, but there is no visible side of the the house. It is a row house and you can’t see the sides at all.

Mara says:
June 27, 2011 at 4:01 pm (Edit)
Sure! My family has lived in Baltimore for several generations (the Canton section) & most of my family still lives there, too. I had visited the house in Lancaster Street and had seen the bricks myself….they are only visible inside the house because the “bastard” bricks are not used for any facing. One must go inside to the third floor to see them. I have actually found a reference to it (including pictures of the bricks!) here….

Hopefully, the link will work. Robert Eney, who is mentioned in the reference, is apart of the preservation socicety in Baltimore. He was the one who had shown me this house. You can see some video of him discussing some of the houses in Fell’s Point here…

marymiley says:
June 27, 2011 at 4:28 pm (Edit)
Many thanks!!

marymiley says:
August 3, 2011 at 5:38 pm (Edit)
I just heard from the world’s expert in ballast (that’s my own title for Dr. Nic Butler, Manager of the Charleston Archive at the Charleston Public Library) who told me he’s spent the past five years reading every existing record of the South Carolina colonial legislature. He writes:
“Charleston’s streets were unpaved, sandy thoroughfares for the entire colonial period. Sidewalks were paved with crushed oyster shells and bricks as early as 1698, but there is no record of any street paving until after the incorporation of the city in 1783. In fact, in 1734 South Carolina’s provincial legislature passed a law requiring ship captains to discharge their unwanted ballast to the commissioners of the fortifications, who caused the stones to be piled in an around the town’s waterfront fortifications. For nearly five decades, the commissioners of the fortifications employed a “yeoman” (and his slaves) with a “lighter” or flat barge to transport the stones from ship to shore. This law was rendered void by the legislature’s decision in March 1784 to dismantle the fortifications. Only after that time, therefore, were ballast stones available to the newly-incorporated City Council of Charleston for use in paving public streets. Contrary to what tour guides say, Charleston’s cobblestone (ballast stone) streets date from either the late 18th or early 19th centuries.”

This is the first hard evidence I’ve seen for paving streets with ballast. Thanks so much, Nic! Now we know it definitely occurred, at least in Charleston and Maryland (see comment above), I think it is safe to say that this is only a myth in that it exaggerates the practice. Not every paving-stone street was made from imported ballast.

JJ Cummings says:
October 5, 2011 at 1:06 am (Edit)
Old town Alexandria, Virginia was said to be built with bricks and stones from Balast. There are many stone roads in this location still in existance and many of these roads were paved over.

marymiley says:
October 5, 2011 at 8:15 am (Edit)
Yes, that’s what their tour guides say. I heard it myself last month on a tour. But is there any documentation for the statement? I didn’t ask, but in the past, when I have asked (and gone to a particular state’s reference librarians, historical society historians, and university history departments), there is no proof, just repeated hearsay. In some few cases, there actually is documentation, such as with Charleston, which I mentioned earlier. I suspect that in many towns, the paving stones were purchased locally and did not come from ballast.

marymiley says:
December 24, 2011 at 3:49 pm (Edit)
I recently came across a reference in Antiques Roadshow Primer (1999) that talks about Canton export porcelain. Author Carol Prisant writes, “But Canton was affordable–so inexpensive in fact, that the merchant ships carrying it from the Orient to America and England used it as ballast.” She is not any more specific than that, and I have seen no hard evidence.

Eric Gardner says:
April 20, 2012 at 3:08 pm (Edit)
I recently lived in Savannah GA for some time, and the same story was used there in reference to River Street. Paved with ballast. It seems plausible though, but I need to do more research.

Robert says:
July 23, 2012 at 7:04 pm (Edit)
Interesting… I’m a geologist and just received a granite belgian block recovered from Fells Point. I was asked if I could determine it’s source. I’m just starting to look into the issue, but cursory search of available info points to the host of granite quarries in Baltimore County as the source (rather than a european origin). I’m going to see if I can dig up published geochemical data to compare…

marymiley says:
July 24, 2012 at 8:32 am (Edit)
I’d love to hear the results of your investigation. Please come back when you’ve finished!

Sue Orsak says:
October 16, 2014 at 12:43 am (Edit)
I’m also interested in this also Robert. We have some of these that came from streets in Seattle,Wa.

Joe Greeley says:
July 27, 2013 at 5:07 pm (Edit)
It’s complete myth. Bricks and cobblestones have something in common with each other that they do not have in common with ballast. They cost money to produce-ballast is free. When a ship needed ballast they sent the sailors and the ships boat over to the shore and started digging. I can’t say with absolute certainty that cobble rock (round smooth rocks found on beaches) was NEVER loaded as ballast and then dumped on a street, but it doesn’t make good paving material. If you want a good road surface, the stone must be cut and fitted closely-again requiring that somebody be paid to do so which eliminates it from the ballast category.
Bricks and cobblestones might get a cheaper shipping rate if the main cargo wasn’t heavy enough, but they were still cargo, NOT ballast.

Mary Miley says:
July 27, 2013 at 6:21 pm (Edit)
I’m convinced . . . but do you have any documentation for this?

Joe Ballard says:
May 25, 2015 at 7:43 pm (Edit)
Speaking of myths, it is a myth Mr. Greeley to suggest that ballast was free. I have an 1870 “ballast wanted” advertisement by the owners of a newly built ship looking for 250 tons of stone ballast and offering to pay 50 cents per ton. I am very interested in this “building stone ballast myth” and have been looking for information to debunk or confirm it for some time. I am pleased to find this discussion. Thanks!

Mary Miley says:
May 25, 2015 at 8:12 pm (Edit)
Cool! I wonder if the cost was for the ballast, per se, or if it was for the labor involved in carting it to the dock and loading it on the ship. Maybe the ballast was “free” but no one could expect it delivered for free. Any ideas?

Joe Ballard says:
May 25, 2015 at 8:28 pm (Edit)
It is interesting that the ship owners in the ad I refer to did not specify a particular type of stone wanted. They leave that to the convenience of those who are to locate it and move it. It would appear (in this case) that the stone had no value beyond its use as ballast; and, as you suggest the bulk of the cost was likely in the transportation of it.

Bill the History Geek says:
November 30, 2014 at 10:08 pm (Edit)
I hear a variation of this myth at many of the colonial houses here in Tidewater Virginia. The tour guide will say that their bricks were imported from England. One church makes this claim even though their own vestry records say otherwise. “Ordered that Col: Anthony Walke Capt: Francis Land & Capt: Francis Moseley & Capt: Jacob Ellegood or any two of them agree with Some person to make Sixty thousand bricks or more this fall towards building the new Church ” Needless to say, I am no longer welcome there. I have heard that oyster shells will glow under a black light. I have seen bits of shell in the bricks of most of these places. If a brick were imported, would it contain oyster shells. Not bloody likely.

Mary Miley says:
December 1, 2014 at 8:28 am (Edit)
As you say, colonial American bricks were locally made. So locally, in fact, that they were often made very near the building site because transporting them was such a problem–and an expense.


Debunking Our Past

August 5, 2015


I had a letter from Bob Lehr at Henrico County, Virginia, Recreation and Parks about a program they have created based on history myth–History Mythbusters: Debunking Our Past. Bob writes, “I have enjoyed reading your posts about myths and attended one of your lectures a while back. A few of my co-workers at Henrico Recreation and Parks are followers of your site as well.” Well, gosh, thanks! 

The program will be held at historic Walkerton Tavern on Friday August 21 at 7:00 PM. “Participants will rotate throughout the property and see scenarios based on several myths. They will try to determine if it is a myth or fact or somewhere in between. (Once you see some of these myths acted out in real life, it’s hard to believe that they could be true, but we will try to make some difficult to tell.) After about 6 or 7 stops, we will have a small reception, see how well they did, and hear some background on the myths. This program wouldn’t be possible without using information from your website so we will definitely give you credit. We hope you do not mind and also hope you could promote the program through your website.”  

Mind? I’m flattered. And I’d be there myself if I didn’t have a prior engagement at the Suffolk Mystery Authors festival that weekend. 

So if you live in the central Virginia area and are looking for something different on Friday night, August 21, check out the Walkerton Tavern myth busting event here:

Revisited Myth #53: Kitchens were separated from the main house in colonial days because of the fear of fire.

July 18, 2015
Williamsburg kitchen with outdoor bake oven attached to chimney

Williamsburg kitchen with outdoor bake oven attached to chimney


As the story goes, kitchens burned down a lot and it was easier to rebuild your kitchen than your whole house. While fear of fire may have influenced some people, if it were the main reason for building separate kitchens, how come only the people living in southern colonies feared fire? Separate kitchens were not a common feature in northern colonies; they were very common in the south.

Actual reasons have more to do with the heat and odors from the kitchen fire, which in the south would not have been welcome most months of the year. Early on, many southern houses had basement kitchens. Hugh Jones, a mathematics teacher at the College of William and Mary noted in 1724 in his book, The Present State of Virginia, that planters often kept their “kitchen apart from the dwelling house, because of the smell of victuals, offensive in hot weather.” Another reason was the desire to segregate kitchen slaves from the family’s main living space. Cooks and other kitchen slaves often lived above the kitchen and worked there all day.


Revisited Myth #52: Ice cream was invented by (blank) in (blank).

July 12, 2015


There are more myths about the origins of ice cream than flavors at Baskin-Robbins.

Credit has been bestowed upon many—all undeserving. Some sources say the ancient Romans invented ice cream, others that Marco Polo brought the discovery back to Italy from China, and many agree that Catherine de Medici introduced the French to ice cream when she married the future King Henri II. Not to be outdone by Europeans, some Americans have claimed ice cream was first made by Martha Washington, or brought to this country from France by Thomas Jefferson, or invented by Dolley Madison while at the White House. There is no documentation for any of these claims. Robert Brantley, a Colonial Williamsburg journeyman who has spent countless hours researching the topic, says, “These stories were created during the 19th century by ice cream sellers who were looking for a marketing angle.”

Each story does contain a kernel of truth. The Romans did mix snow or chipped ice with various flavorings, but that makes Slurpees, not ice cream. Most historians agree that Marco Polo visited China in the 13th century, and that the Chinese were probably the first to invent an iced dairy product, but if the wily Venetian ever saw or tasted such a memorable food, he makes no mention of it in his journals. And Catherine de Medici of Florence, Italy, did marry the future king of France in 1533, but that was before Italian cooks had learned to artificially freeze liquids and over a century and a half before the earliest known French ice cream recipe. (Not to mention that she didn’t bring any Italian cooks with her when she moved to France.)

Ice cream probably originated in China, but very little reliable research has been done on the subject. As early as the 7th century, a frozen milk product is described in a Chinese document. Another description, this one poetic, survives from the 12th century. If those two bits of evidence leave historians skeptical, there is a more reliable mention of ice cream being served at the Mogul court in the 14th century.

Knowledge of ice cream could have spread overland along the Silk Road routes from China through the Middle East and into Italy, but it seems more likely that what spread west was the knowledge of how to freeze things by the seemingly magical combination of ice and salt. The “endothermic effect” of this mixture draws heat from the adjacent liquid, allowing people to freeze liquids and, incidentally, to make ice cream.

Ice cream’s European debut probably took place in Italy, probably in Naples, probably in the latter part of the 17th-century. It spread through the royal houses of Europe. Early English sources mention a 1671 feast of King Charles II where “one plate of Ice Cream” was served and a 1688 banquet to celebrate the birth of the son of James II.

Ice cream began to appear in the American colonies during the first half of the eighteenth century. The first recorded instance of ice cream being served in America occurred in Maryland in 1744 when Governor Thomas Bladen included it on his dessert table. It was May, and the shock of having something frozen to eat in a warm month astonished the guests. One of them, William Black of Virginia, wrote of it in a letter, which survives today. Black mentions “a Dessert no less curious: Among the Rarities of which it was Compos’d, was some fine Ice Cream which, with the Strawberries and Milk, eat most Deliciously.”

Historians know of at least two royal governors who served ice cream at the Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg. A fierce hailstorm in July of 1758 gave Governor Francis Fauquier the chance to make ice cream in the summer. The hail was so large it broke every window on the north side of the palace, and when it was collected—doubtlessly not by the governor himself—“he cooled his wine, and froze cream, with some of them the next day.” It was Fauquier’s first year in Williamsburg and his first exposure to the peculiar violence of American weather. Ten years later, his successor, Lord Botetourt, arrived in Williamsburg where he served as governor until his untimely death in 1770. The inventory of Botetourt’s belongings taken after his death included many pewter ice molds which would have been used to form ice cream into pretty shapes.

So a few wealthy Americans were eating ice cream long before Thomas Jefferson went to France in 1784 as American ambassador to the French court. Although Jefferson did not introduce ice cream to America, he did encounter it in Paris, and he enjoyed it enough to jot down a recipe that calls for “2. bottles of good cream. 6. yolks of eggs. 1/2 lb. sugar” to be flavored with vanilla and frozen in a “sabottiere.” A 1796 inventory lists “2 freising molds” in the kitchen, so his servants were making ice cream at least that early. When he was president, Jefferson had an ice house built for the President’s House—what we today call the White House—and on Independence Day in 1806, hired a servant to turn the ice cream maker. For many, this was their introduction to ice cream, hence the belief that Jefferson brought the dish to America.

Martha Washington did not invent ice cream any more than Jefferson or Dolley Madison, but she served it at Mount Vernon on many occasions. The Washingtons acquired a “cream machine for ice” in 1784, the same year George directed his estate manager to build an ice house on his estate.

For more information, see, Harvest of the Cold Months by Elizabeth David, and, or watch a video about making ice cream the colonial way at

Revisited Myth #51: Wearing tinted eyeglasses meant the wearer had syphilis.

July 5, 2015

gentleman w_glasses retouched

Come on, do you really think that if that nice young man in the portrait had syphilis, he would advertise the fact with tinted eyeglasses? 

Tinted eyeglasses are not new. In the eighteenth century, some people wore blue, green, amber, and amethyst lenses to protect their eyes from the sun’s glare. They did not indicate a medical problem.

Medical books of the time make no mention of colored lenses in treating syphilis. In Treatise of the Venereal Disease (1789), the author notes correctly that syphilis could cause eye inflammation but offers no specific treatment. In his Observations Concerning the Prevention and Cure of the Venereal Disease (1796), William Buchan recommends blistering plasters applied to the temples or behind the ears to reduce some of the symptoms. No primary reference to the connection between colored lenses and syphilis has been found.



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