Obviously pregnant Felicity Graham sighed from exhaustion, stretching high in the pantry cupboard to place the last twelve jars of homemade jam on its uppermost shelf while four-year-old daughter Hannah pat-a-caked her hands together to get her mama’s attention.
“See me, Ma, see me!” she lisped.
“Oh, Baby, what did you get into?”
Strawberry juice was flying back and forth across the kitchen floor, spotting the whitewashed cupboards as little Hannah brandished the jam ladle over her head.
“Mama sees you, mischievous one—how in the world did you reach the counter?” firmly prying the messy spoon from her toddler’s grasp.
Half an hour later, freshly bathed Hannah was in her trundle bed for a nap while her mother cleaned up the polka-dotted kitchen, just as husband, Carl arrived from the fields.
“What are you doing down on your knees, woman?” the reprimand sounding harsher than he meant it, “you know what Doc said about overdoing this time!”
Two days later, on June 30, 1776, Louisa Catherine entered the world weeks before her expected arrival, too impatient to wait for the doctor’s timetable an early indicator of future behaviors.
At her christening, family and close friends gathered to celebrate, lavishing gifts upon the littlest one amongst them: embroidered lacy pincushions trimmed in tatted lace, a sampler from her older sister, various baby rattles adorned with bells, whistles, and pieces of polished coral for teething, a colorfully painted rocking horse and the usual baby gowns with stays, clouts & pilchers, bonnets, bibs and aprons, along with one exquisitely stitched pudding cap. All rejoiced the more in Louisa’s successful birth, Felicity having suffered two successive miscarriages the previous year. Indeed, this charming infant held many hearts in her tiny dimpled hands.
Thus followed a period of joy and contentment for the Grahams, in spite of the persecutions and challenges of Colonists and Patriots of the newly forming America and life fraught with peril, unexpected diseases and, more often than not—death. Ever watchful of their daughters’ welfare, Felicity became obsessed with fear when any child in their colony became ill and kept the girls tucked away safely at home much of the time. She had experienced the sorrow of losing a son to whooping cough and it would haunt her forever. Even now, Matthew’s little frocks and breeches, his clay marble collection and tin whistles and jack stones were wrapped carefully in brown paper at the bottom of their valued cedar chest as a solemn tribute to a life cheated by death. Still, she felt blessed because half of the infants born in their settlement would likely die before their sixth birthday.
Louisa and Hannah kept each other company during the hours their mama was busy with chores, in spite of the four years separating them. Hannah would sit on her little stool in the kitchen corner, working on the required sampler, trying to accomplish her mama’s edict of twenty stitches to an inch. Louisa would sit at her feet on a thick blanket, playing with the finely whittled Noah’s Ark set passed down from previous generations. If she grew restless, Hannah would let her play with the stuffed cotton doll usually kept hidden away in a little cupboard. It wouldn’t be long before Louisa would be sitting in the homemade wooden walker their papa had built for them.
The same week of Louisa’s birth, another one took place just a few miles away. A country, born on July 4th when the life-altering Declaration of Independence was written and signed by political patriots, gave the Grahams another reason for celebration, this exciting moment in history echoing throughout the colony. George Wythe, a close family friend and Professor of the Law, shared the exciting news with them at Louisa’s christening party.
“I wish you had been present, Carl. The emotions ran high, and when someone quoted our fellow patriot Patrick Henry’s, ‘Give me liberty, or give me death!,’ it was as if his passion and vigor spread a banner of approval over us all. I tell you, Carl, this United States of America will be the greatest nation of the entire world!”
America’s birth and infancy, fraught with wars for life and freedom, were much like Louisa’s battles for survival during a smallpox epidemic and during an era where women were devalued. And, just as she cut the leading strings attached to her mother’s apron, American cut ties with Britain—both becoming independent as they grew, developed and matured.
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