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Sally Wister's Journal

A True Narrative

Being a Quaker Maiden's Account of Her Experiences with Officers of the Continental Army, 1777-1778

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In personal appearance Sally was tall [9] and well-formed.  Her silhouette shows that she had full, clear-cut features; and a reference [10] in the Journal leads us to believe that she was a blonde.

In spite of her Quaker training she takes not a little worldly pride in her dress and appearance.  We are fully informed of her various costumes and we thus gain a very valuable picture of the dress of a young girl at that day.  When she hears that officers are coming to the house she and her young friends put their "dress and lips" "in order for conquest."  The next day she wore her "chintz and look'd smarter than night before."  She is much mortified to have Captain Dandridge find her wearing her greenish "skirt and dark short gown.  Provoking."

By the latter part of 1777 she was evidently feeling quite grown up and had adopted a more formal dress than the girlish one she had been wearing.  "I dressed myself," she writes, "[in my] silk and cotton gown.  It is made without an apron.  I feel quite awkwardish, and prefer the girlish dress."  At another time she wears a "light chintz, which is made grown-fashion, kenting handkerchief, and linen apron."  Again she notes with satisfaction that she had on her locket and her "white whim(?), quite as nice as a First-day in town."  In the closing pages of the Journal she appears resplendent in a "new purple and white striped Persian, white petticoat, muslin apron, gauze cap and handkerchief."

Here and there we catch glimpses of her housewifely employments.  She is skilled in "needle wisdom."  She sets "a stocking on the needles and intends to be mightily industrious."  She is "darning an apron."  One day she rises "at half-past four" in the morning and irons "industriously till one o'clock."  On another she "Read and work'd by turns."  Her evenings are spent in "reading and chatting."

The Wister family at the opening of the Journal consisted of its head, Daniel Wister, thirty-eight years of age, his wife Lowry, four years his junior, and their five children, --Sally, the eldest, aged sixteen; Betsy, aged thirteen; Hannah, aged ten; Susanna, aged four, and John, an infant of eighteen months.  They had evidently spent the summer of 1776 at their country house in Germantown,[11] and in the autumn had probably returned to their city home; but the British capture of New York and the threatening out-look for Philadelphia doubtless induced them thus soon to leave the city and take refuge at the Foulke farm.  That they had made their quarters here as early as October, 1776, would seem to be true from the statement of Sally in the Journal under date of June 5, 1778, that they had resided at North Wales for twenty months.  At any rate they were there in January, 1777, as is evidenced by a letter [12] from Deborah Norris, dated January 27, 1777, and addressed: "ffor Sally Wister ior/jun North Wales."

The old Foulke house, which still remains in a good state of preservation, was for its time a large and imposing mansion.  It is located at the present Penllyn Station of the Reading Railway, on a gentle elevation a few hundred yards to the east of Wissahickon Creek.  That part of the house which was standing at the time of the Revolution is built of stone, now coated with plaster, and is two stories high.  It was probably erected by Hannah Foulke's husband, William Foulke (1708 - 1775), and, occupies the site of an earlier dwelling built by the latter's grandfather, the emigrant ancestor of the Foulke family, Edward Foulke,[13] a Welshman, who came to Pennsylvania in 1698 and purchased seven hundred acres of land in this part of Gwynedd Township.  In recent times additions, which seem out of harmony, were made to the east and west ends of the dwelling, and it now presents the long, irregular front shown in the view here reproduced.  The central ivy-covered portion is the original house, and was the scene of most of the events described in the Journal.

The Foulke Mansion, Penllyn, Pennsylvania, 1902

A short distance to the west of the house, near the Wissahickon, was the ancient Foulke Mill, so frequently mentioned by Sally.  It finally fell into disuse, and was removed in 1896.  When I visited the place a few months since all that remained to mark the site were a great opening in the earth and two stone mill-burrs.

Inside the original dwelling but few changes have been made; the old fire-places, the low ceilings, the plain woodwork, and the other marks of its colonial simplicity are still preserved.  The arrangement of the rooms as described by Sally Wister also remains.  "The house," she writes, "has four rooms on a floor, with a wide entry running through."

William Foulke had died in 1775, bequeathing the farm and mill to his son Jesse Foulke, but leaving to his wife Hannah a life interest in the estate.  She was now living with her three unmarried children: Jesse, aged thirty-five, the head of the family and the owner and operator of the farm and mill; Priscilla, aged thirty-three, and Lydia, aged twenty-one.

The inventory of William Foulke's personal estate, made at his death, and printed in full in the Appendix, is typical of that of the well-to-do Quaker farmer of the period.  From the list can be formed a perfectly clear and definite idea of the general equipment of the house and farm.  The household items show that the dwelling was plainly but comfortably furnished for that day; although the floors were bare, and the walls unadorned save by mirrors.  Except for the "Tea Spoons & Tongs" and the "China & Delf wares" we miss the silver and other articles of luxury which are more usually found in inventories of city houses.

From the internal evidence of the Journal it would seem that the Foulkes retained one side of the house and gave up the other with its furnishings to the Wisters.  The Wisters, however, kept their own table.  Apparently the domestic arrangements of the families were in every way pleasant, and they lived on the most intimate and friendly terms.  They considered themselves "as of kin by marriage," Hannah Foulke's son, Amos Foulke, of Philadelphia, having married Hannah Jones, Mrs. Wister's sister.  Sally Wister was accustomed to speak of Mrs. Foulke as "Aunt Foulke" and of the Foulke children as "Cousin."

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