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A Day in the Life of the Powell Family

A photographic essay by 1998 Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute participants

Introduction / Father / Mother / Daughter / Slaves / Summary

Annabelle Powell (born 1732, died 1782)

  • Wife and Mother
  • Grandmother
  • Mother-in-law
  • Teacher to daughters
  • Mistress to slaves
  • Represents family in the community
  • Femme covert: Legally one with her husband
  • Not eligible to vote
  • Responsible for daily household management
  • Signed her name with an "X"

" will distinguish your self by making a Virtuous tender affectionate wife and parent, a humain Mistress and a kind Neighbor, for blessed is she of whom many worthy deeds are recorded."

--Frances Bland to Frances Bland Randolph, 1770. [Tucker-Coleman Collection, College of William and Mary.]

Mrs. Powell's day begins at sunrise. She must get up, get dressed with the help of her personal slave, Rose, and awaken Mr. Powell and Hannah.

Mrs. Powell getting into her stays
Getting things ready in the kitchen

Mrs. Powell goes out to the kitchen/laundry, where the Powell slaves live, and makes sure that they are awake and getting dressed. Mrs. Powell reminds Nanny, the cook, to get the fires started early, as this afternoon there will be company for dinner at two of the clock.

Nanny and Mrs. Powell plan the menu for dinner and decide what must be purchased this morning at the Market. Mrs. Powell also gives orders for the day's work to Rose and Cate, and has the slave children pull weeds in the garden, do laundry, iron, mend clothes, dry herbs from the garden, and prepare the house for guests.

Mrs. Powell, Hannah and Rose go to the Market to purchase fresh beef and oysters for dinner. When they return, Cate serves breakfast in the dining room.

After breakfast, Mrs. Powell, Hannah and Nanny begin the preparation of dinner. Mrs. Powell instructs, supervises and measures out expensive spices, while Hannah practices her cookery skills.

At Market
The Powell pleasure garden

Mrs. Powell works in her Pleasure Garden. This is a small garden, planned and designed by Annabelle with Mr. Powell's help, for the purpose of beauty, elegance and enjoyment.

Mrs. Powell supervises the making of beds and house cleaning, then checks on the progress of dinner preparations. "I rarely have time to rest and am nearly always behind in everything that needs to be done. This is partly due to having servants whom I must supervise constantly." [The Letters of Rosalie Stier Calvert, 1816.]

Mrs. Powell and Hannah sew on their freshly ironed sleeve ruffles and do some mending. Mrs. Powell is making a new cap and apron for her little granddaughter, Elizabeth.

Mrs. Powell and Hannah attend to their sewing
Mrs. Hoy assists with making medicines

Mrs. Hoy, a friend of the family, arrives to help Mrs. Powell and Hannah prepare household medicines, soaps and cosmetics.

Mrs. Powell returns to the kitchen to check on the progress of dinner preparations, again. She tells Charles, Nanny's son, that it is time to catch, kill and pluck a nice plump chicken to roast for dinner.

Dinner preparations
Dining and conversation

Hannah and Mrs. Powell put the finishing touches on the serving dishes, garnishing them prettily, while Rose sets the table. Mrs. Powell and Hannah are dressed for dinner when Mr. Powell returns from conducting business about the town. He arrives just in time to welcome their guests, Mr. and Mrs. James Geddy, to dinner.

At two of the clock, the Powells and their guests sit down to dinner, the main meal of the day. Mr. and Mrs. Geddy admire the beautifully presented meal, and compliment the hostess. Mrs. Powell will be responsible for the next two hours for the proper service of the food, the art of conversation and the entertainment of her guests.

Mrs. Powell invites the ladies to accompany her to the parlor for tea and conversation while the men remain at the table to smoke their pipes and talk politics; they will join the ladies for music and dancing later. Hannah has invited several of her friends to join them as well.

Dancing in the Parlor

After a late, light supper of leftovers from dinner, the Powells read from the Bible together, say their evening prayers and retire for the night at about ten of the clock.