Colonial Christmas celebrated at the Carter Mansion

Published 9:36 am Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Photo by Brandon Hicks For more photos visit

Carter Mansion celebrated a Colonial Christmas this weekend.
Visitors to the oldest frame home in Tennessee took a trip back in time to the 1780s and took part in holiday customs that were common at the time.
A reenactor tour guide led visitors through the home, where they were greeted Col. John Carter and his wife, Elizabeth, played by Chad Bogart and Anna Peak.
Bogart, as Carter, explained the traditional Christmas decorations that would have been found in homes in the 1780s. Fresh fruit and greenery would have been common decorative items and usually had a special significance.
“My favorite decoration is the pineapple,” Bogart said. “It is a sign of hospitality. If a pineapple is displayed, it means visitors are welcome in the home.”
Bogart told his Colonial guests about the new decorating trend that German immigrants were bringing into the colonies.
“I have heard tales they are bringing an entire tree indoors,” Bogart said, staying in character as Carter. “I don’t think that will catch on.”
Peak detailed the “Poor Man’s Punch” that would have been a fixture for Colonial celebrations. The punch would have included a ring, a coin or a button or thimble. Whoever ended up with one of those in their cup would have had their fortune told for the new year.
“If you had a ring, it meant you would be getting married,” Peak said. “If there was a coin, it meant you would be rich. If you had the button or thimble, it meant you would remain single.”
In the next room, Jane Doan, playing Catherine Sevier, and Linda Lial, playing Mary Lincoln, inserted whole cloves into fresh oranges to be used as pretty, aromatic holiday decorations in the Colonial home.
“They smelled good and they would maintain long after Christmas,” Doan said. “Even when they dried, they still had their scent. They would place them into their wardrobes and throughout the home to make everything smell good.”
Lial said the oranges and cloves were also a display of the Carter’s wealth. The items would be shipped fresh from Charlestown, what is now known as Charleston, S.C.
“Only the very wealthy could afford that,” Lial said. “I’m sure it cost a lot to get them here while they were still fresh and in good condition.”
Upstairs in the guest bedroom, Kay Milsaps, as Ann Vanderpool Nave, and Ronnie Lial, as Isaac Lincoln, talked to guests about sleeping arrangements and common gifts for Colonial children.
Milsaps informed the guests that adults would sleep in the spare room as space allowed and children and other adults would find space in the attic to sleep. Many guests at a Colonial party would have traveled miles just to visit with their closest neighbor.
Because the home was only heated with a fireplace that did not extend to the upstairs bedrooms, bed warmers would be used in the beds to keep the slumberers warm.
Milsaps showed the visitors the toys colonial children could expect for Christmas, including handmade clay marbles and yarn-scrap dolls.
In the master bedroom, Mary Jane Kennedy acting as Lydia Bean shared the tale of the Christmas roses. The story explains the legend of how Christmas roses came to be.
Outside the home, a group of Overmountain Men shared Christmas carols and a bonfire with the guests. David Doan explained the tradition of starting a fire from straw because that is what baby Jesus slept on in the manager.
“This is to remind us of how humble we need to be,” Doan said. “Christ was born in a manager and this is what he slept on.”
The Christmas tours of Carter Mansion drew in a large number of visitors to the historic home.
Rebecca Proffitt of Elizabethton was a returning visitor to the Carter Mansion Christmas.
“I love history,” she explained. “I love to hear the story of how it used to be and seeing how people lived 200 years ago.”
Laura Ayscue of Kingsport visited the Carter Mansion for the first time with her family, including her parents who were visiting from Missouri.
“I really enjoy talking with the reenactors,” she said. “I love their excitement for the heritage and history of the area.”
The Christmas at Carter Mansion tours are an annual event hosted by Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park.
Many of the reenactors were a part of the Washington County Regiment of the North Carolina Militia.

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