Tag Archives: Virginia Kyle Campbell

All Wrapped Up in Finery: Virginia Campbell’s Shawl

Every object has its own chapter that makes the greater story of the Campbell family and the Museum remarkable. Although some of these chapters have been lost during the transition from a house to a museum, original objects continue to return “home” to the Campbell House more than 70 years after the last Campbell died. One extraordinary artifact associated with Virginia Campbell was donated this past summer: a shawl.

Portrait of Virginia Campbell circa 1882 showing the shawl draped over the chair.

Portrait of Virginia Campbell circa 1882 showing the shawl draped over the chair.A large nine-foot long shawl was donated by the family that purchased it from the Campbell estate auction in 1941. The unique textile is made from silk and wool and is believed to date from around 1840. It appears to be the shawl draped over a chair in the life-size portrait of Virginia Campbell hanging above the piano in the downstairs parlor.

Between the years 1770 and 1870, the most valuable thing in a women’s armoire was a Kashmir shawl. These textiles originated from Kashmir, a lush area in India. Documentation shows that woolen shawls were fashionable for Indian and Persian men and women centuries prior, but it was not until King Zayn-ul-Abidin, a 15th century leader of Kashmir, introduced Turkish weaving to the area, that Kashmir became noted for their textiles.

Made from the finest goat fleece, these shawls were hand-woven by a team of specialists. Looms were later introduced and the weaving process that could take years then only took a few months. Traditionally, flowering plants were the primary design on the shawls. In the early 18th century, these flowering plants morphed into encased flowers, and by the time Western European consumption of shawls began, morphed into the “buta” design. Meaning “flower,” the “buta” design is the characteristic tear drop with a bent tip design. This became known as the “pine” and the “cone,” in Western Europe, and the “paisley” in North America.

In the late 18th century, Kashmir shawls were acquired by travelers, explorers, military personnel and members of the East India Company who brought them back as “exotic” presents. Shortly after, European countries, namely England and France, began producing imitation Kashmir shawls. Although never fully obtaining the same quality as the original Kashmirs, European design had its own value in the market. France took the lead by obtaining its materials from the Middle East, creating distinctly French designs, and revolutionized production with img_5709the introduction of the Jacquard loom. Eventually, Europeans produced comparable shawls with cheaper materials. This caused the prices of European produced shawls to drop, allowing more than just the wealthy to own a shawl. The United States, emulating European fashions, also started producing a limited amount of shawls, in addition to wearing the ones purchased abroad.

shawlparlor

Shawl in display in the Campbell House parlor, December 2016.

A number of factors led to the decline of the Kashmir shawl industry in the West: war, famine, and fashion. By the 1870s, France had become the biggest importer of both shawls and shawl materials from Kashmir. But when the Franco-Prussian War broke out in 1870, trade halted and robbed Kashmir of its largest shawl consumer. Around the same time, a famine crossing India robbed the industry of its artists, leaving fewer workers to create the shawls. Additionally, the “in” dress fashions played a role in the decline of shawl popularity. The bustles, or protrusion on the back of the dress, did not allow the shawl to fall properly as it did with previous dress styles. While some women altered their shawls to fit the new style, many sought to repurpose their textile treasure into furniture pieces, such as piano covers or curtains. Furthermore, as the prices became cheaper and more women owned shawls, it fell out of style. What was once a symbol of wealth and luxury became a garment of days gone by.

The donated shawl made its debut during this year’s Christmas display and will be out for public viewing until mid-January.

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Slavery: A Complicated Story

A story central to the history of the Campbell House and the City of St. Louis, especially as we recognize the historical contributions of African Americans during Black History Month, is that of slavery. Enslaved people served a variety of purposes in St. Louis homes, ranging from caring for babies to cooking and cleaning to working in fields on the city’s outskirts. Research over the past several years has revealed that Robert Campbell owned at least five slaves over a period of 16 years in the 1840s and 50s. The story of slavery at the Campbell House is a tricky one—there are a lot of unanswered questions, unclear records, and gaps in documentation. Here’s what we know:

  • Lucy Kyle

    Virginia’s mother Lucy Kyle, an ardent abolitionist and, for a short time, slave owner.

    1833: Virginia Campbell’s father, Hazlett Kyle, who had been a merchant and slaveholder in Raleigh, North Carolina, died when Virginia was 11 years old. He left an estate (which included his enslaved property) to be held for her until her 21st birthday.

  • 1841: There is no evidence that Robert Campbell owned slaves before his marriage to 19 year old Virginia in 1841, at which point the entirety of her inherited property became vested to her new husband. Three enslaved people were transferred to Robert, three to Virginia’s mother Lucy and two to Walter Otey, the husband of Virginia’s sister Eleanor. Lucy Kyle, who had been raised a Quaker, emancipated her slaves. Walter Otey, a slave trader and plantation owner himself, worked one of the slaves his wife had inherited and sold the other. Robert and Virginia brought their three slaves, each a child under the age of 12, to St. Louis with them the following year.
  • African American woman with her charge

    Enslaved African American woman with her charge, identities unknown. Enslaved women like Caroline and Eliza were often assigned the task of caring for a family’s young children. Unfortunately, there are no known images of any of the five individuals owned by the Campbell family.

    1842-45: The names of these enslaved children pop up periodically in family correspondence:  Caroline, described once as being “just at an age now to be contaminated by hiring her out”, Simeon, who appears to have been the oldest of the three and was hired out to work elsewhere by the Campbells, and a young boy named Hazlett, no doubt after the Kyle family patriarch. “Hazy” as he is referred to, was hired out by Robert to help another family with a newborn baby, “just that he may be learning something”. By 1842 Caroline and Simeon (the two oldest) had been hired out to work on a farm in Sulphur Springs owned by Robert’s longtime business partner William Sublette. Young Hazy was kept with the Campbell family to lend a hand with newborn James Campbell, his primary job being “to keep off the flies” from the infant.

  • 1845-49: At this point, the trail becomes tough to follow. We lose track of Caroline around 1845, when there are no female slaves listed in city records for the Campbell family. Four years later in 1849, the same thing happens when Simeon and Hazlett disappear from the record.
  • 1854-57: When the Campbells move into their Lucas Place home (today the Campbell House Museum) in 1854, there was just one enslaved person in the household—a young woman named Eliza. It is believed that Eliza helped to care for the Campbell children and may have come into Robert’s possession as early as 1845 (though this is not entirely clear). In January 1857, Robert Campbell emancipated Eliza and her two young children. The document reads:

“Robert Campbell, who is personally known to the court, comes into open court and acknowledges the execution by him of Deed of Emancipation to his negro woman Eliza, aged about twenty five years, of copper or mulatto complexion, together with her two children, to wit: Aleck, a boy aged about two years and a half, and an infant son born in October last, name not known, both of which children of the same complexion with the said Eliza.” See image below.

Document emancipating Eliza and her two children, 1857. Click to view larger.

Document emancipating Eliza and her two children, 1857. (Click to view larger.)

Why, you might ask, did Robert emancipate Eliza a full seven years before Missouri would abolish slavery in 1864? That’s an excellent question and, to be honest, we don’t have an answer. We do have some ideas though.

  • Hazlett Campbell I

    Hazlett Campbell (died 1856 at age 3). Eliza was his primary caregiver and likely very close to the child.

    Eliza had two children by this point, for which Robert Campbell was financially responsible by default. This also would have been a significant draw on Eliza’s time, since she was now caring for the Campbell family’s brood as well as her own.

  • The first Hazlett Campbell had died in November 1856 and Eliza was emancipated just two months later. Our impression from family letters is that Eliza was the primary caregiver to the child. His death may have eliminated a pressing need to have her around the house. It also is likely that Eliza would have taken the death of a baby to whom she was so close particularly hard.
  • At some point around the time of Eliza’s emancipation, Virginia’s mother Lucy arrived in St. Louis and took up residence with her daughter and son-in-law. Like we mentioned above, Lucy was anti-slavery and may have pressured Robert toward emancipation. It’s also a possibility that Robert didn’t want to offend his mother-in-law by having an enslaved person in the house.
  • Perhaps the most interesting tidbit we’ve found comes from a diary written by a family friend after a visit to the Campbell House in 1858. Sarah Lindsey, visiting Lucy Kyle, writes that:

“At one time they held a few slaves but Virginia Campbell not liking the system, nor the care of the young Negroes, they were set free. Their servants at the present time are Swiss, German and Irish.”

ElizaFreedomBond

Freedom Bond signed by Robert Campbell in the amount of $500 to vouch for Eliza’s character after her emancipation. Should Eliza have been arrested or in a legal pinch as a freed African American in slave-holding Missouri, Robert would have been called upon to pay up. (Click to view larger.)

While we would like to say that the Campbells freed their slaves due to their strong abolitionist beliefs, this probably isn’t the case. Though we do have on reference that Mrs. Campbell didn’t like “the system” of slavery, we can’t discount the difficulties that must have been faced in caring for a young unmarried mother with two very young children, especially in a house that had already lost seven children of their own. However, we also can’t ignore the fact that the Campbells kept up a close personal relationship with Eliza after she was freed. After Virginia’s death in 1882, Eliza was left a gift of $100 (no small change in those days) and son Hugh Campbell lent her an additional $100 a year later when she and her family moved to Kansas City. We also have a letter dated 1918 from an elderly Eliza (she would’ve easily been 80+ years old at that point) to Hugh in which she says hello and thanks him for a Christmas gift he’d sent.

Needless to say, the story of slavery at the Campbell House is complex, with new information emerging every day as our team of volunteers and researchers continues to dig through the tens of thousands of pages of historic documents left behind by the Campbell family. It’s a complicated story, but it’s one that has to be told. To ignore the unseemly portions of our city’s history and and the lives of its most oppressed and unrecognized citizens would certainly make talking about history a whole lot easier, but it definitely wouldn’t be right.

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Country Folk and City Slickers

We tend to focus on history within the boundaries of St. Louis City here on the blog, but St. Louis County residents rejoice! This one’s for you. Last year the Campbell House started a collaborative lecture series with the Historic Hanley House in Clayton, Missouri and we’re continuing the series next Wednesday.

LucasPlaceCOLOR

Top: Lucas Place neighborhood at the western edge of St. Louis City in mid-19th century. Bottom: Hanley House in St. Louis County around the same time period.

What makes a CHM/HH collaboration so neat is that, even though both houses are located in the midst of bustling urban centers today, back in the mid-19th century St. Louis City and County could not have been more different. The Campbells’ 1851 townhouse sat in the Lucas Place neighborhood at the very western edge of mid-19th century St. Louis City (today, it’s smack dab in the middle of town). The Hanley’s country farmhouse was considerably farther out, a full day’s journey from the city center (if that’s not living in the boonies, we don’t know what is). But despite this major difference, there are actually some interesting parallels between the Campbell and Hanley families and their homes. Here are just a few:

  • Our main man Robert Campbell was born in 1804 and died in 1879. Martin Hanley, namesake of the Hanley House, was born ten years after Robert in 1814 and also died in 1879.
  • Hanley House was built in 1855 in the Greek Revival style, imitating the grand plantation houses of the South. Campbell House was built four years earlier in 1851. It’s also considered a Greek Revival (as well as Early Victorian) style house because of the columns framing its front door and its roof-line ornamentation.
  • Martin Hanley and his wife Cyrene had 11 children, 10 of whom survived to adulthood. Robert and Virginia Campbell had 13 children, 10 of whom died in childhood.
  • The Hanley family sided with the Confederacy during the American Civil War. Robert Campbell sided with the North as a Conditional Unionist, believing that the Union should be preserved with slavery intact. Both men were slave owners, and the Hanley family could be somewhat vocal about their secessionist views since  they lived far away from the city center. Robert had to tread more lightly, in some ways straddling the fence between Northern and Southern sympathies, in order to stay in good graces with his neighbors and political friends in the city.
  • Martin Hanley helped establish Clayton as the St. Louis County seat after the city/county split in 1876, donating four acres of his own land. Robert Campbell, in addition to owning large tracts of land in St. Louis City and County, was one of the founding landowners of Kansas City, MO and El Paso, TX.
  • The Hanley House was continuously occupied by members of the Hanley family from the time of its construction through 1968, when it was purchased by the City of Clayton and turned into a museum. The Campbell House was continuously occupied by members of the Campbell family from the time they moved in in 1854 through 1938 when the last Campbell son passed away, opening as museum shortly thereafter.

Click the images to enlarge

Pretty interesting, right? Well now that we’ve got you hooked, here’s our shameless plug. Join us a week from today, Wednesday January 28 at 7:00 p.m. at the Church of St. Michael & St. George in Clayton for a more in-depth discussion of the parallels between the city slicker Campbells and country folk Hanleys. Campbell House Executive Director Andy Hahn will be joining Hanley House Curator to discuss medical practices in urban vs. rural 19th century St. Louis (and perhaps offering clues as to why the Hanley children survived and so many of the Campbell kids did not). For more information, see below or call the Clayton Century Foundation at (314) 290-8553. We hope to see you there!

Treating the Sick in St. Louis City & County
Wednesday, January 28 at 7:00 p.m.
Church of St. Michael & St. George
(Great Hall)
6345 Wydown Blvd in Clayton, MO

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