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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

  • Daughter
  • Sister and Aunt
  • Femme sole legally at age 21 if unmarried
  • Under guardianship of parents until marriage or age 21

Hannah Powell
(born 1753, died after 1793)

"...My young gentlewomen (his daughters)...are every Day up to their Elbows in Housewifery, which will qualify them effectually for useful Wives& if they live long enough, for Notable Women."

--Wm Byrd II to John Lord Boyle [2 Feb 1726/7 VMHB vol. 32 p. 30.]

Hannah Powell's day begins at sunrise, when her mother awakens her. She dresses with Rose's help and is ready to accompany Mrs. Powell and Rose to the market. Her training in the "arts and mysteries of housewifery" has included the selection of fresh meat, fish and produce. When they return to the house, Cate serves breakfast to Mr. and Mrs. Powell and Hannah in the dining room.

Hannah Powell
Assisting in the kitchen

After breakfast Hannah helps her mother with the planning and preparation of dinner. Mrs. Powell and Nanny, the slave cook, taught Hannah to cook, and today she is preparing a favorite dish of Mr. Powell's, sweet potatoe pudding.

Hannah works in the garden with Cate. She is learning about gardening while supervising Cate. It is Hannah's responsibility to make sure that Cate completes the work.

Hannah works in the garden
Practicing on the spinet harpsichord

Hannah practices on the spinet harpsichord. Her father provided tutors for Hannah and Nancy, at great expense, in reading, writing, ciphering, deportment, dancing, music and fancy needlework. Social accomplishments and behavior allow them to meet suitable young gentlemen. Hannah hopes to marry as well as her younger sister, who has married up into the gentry.

Hannah and her mother attend to the endless sewing and mending required of all women. Hannah attaches her freshly ironed sleeve ruffles, while Mrs. Powell makes a cap and apron for her granddaughter, Elizabeth.

Mrs. Hoy, a friend of Mrs. Powell, arrives to help with the drying of herbs from the garden and preparation of medicines, soap and cosmetics. Hannah is learning about family medicine from her mother and Mrs. Hoy, but today she is most interested in the cosmetics.

Mrs. Hoy working with herbs from the garden
A well garnished dish

Hannah is sent out to the laundry to check on Cate, who is boiling the linens, and to find out whether Nanny has everything ready for the dinner table. Hannah garnishes the various dinner dishes, under her mother's supervision, and directs Rose in setting the table. She then dresses for dinner, arranges her hair and is ready to greet the Geddys when they arrive for dinner.

Hannah has invited several of her friends to join the Powells and the Geddys for music and dancing after dinner. Hannah's special friend, William, plays the flute for the dancers. Hannah is impressed!

Dancing in the Parlor

After a late light supper of leftovers from dinner, Hannah joins her parents for Bible reading and evening prayers. She bids her mother and father a pleasant evening and goes to bed.