Archive for the ‘Caroline Abbott books’ Category

Brick Bake Ovens

March 12, 2014

After I posted instructions for making sourdough bread starter from scratch—just as Caroline Abbott might have done—several readers asked about the type of oven Caroline would have used.  She and Grandmother used a brick bake oven.

Women used these bake ovens for centuries.  While visiting historic sites that interpret the period, I talked with several interpreters about foodways during Caroline’s era.

Old fort Niagara Kitchen

This interpreter was cooking in a kitchen at Old Fort Niagara.

For anyone using a brick bake oven, building a fire inside the oven was the day’s first chore. It took hours to heat the bricks.

Old Fort Niagara Kitchen

Can you see the small oven door in the back of the fireplace?

The arrangement at Old Fort Niagara (shown above) made the best use of the fire itself. When the oven was hot enough, coals were raked into the hearth and could be used for other cooking.

Old Fort Niagara bread

These round loaves were probably baked directly on the bricks.

The interpreter at Fort George National Historic Site, in Ontario, had a slightly different arrangement (below). Her oven is off to the side, which meant she didn’t have to lean over the fire to tend the oven.

Fort George

The oven door is the dark shape on the right side of the photo. This was much safer, and more comfortable, than having the door behind the main cooking fire.

Fort George

Using a bake oven was a big job, so smaller things—like these small cakes (cookies)—could be baked on a griddle hanging over the fire.

I learned to use brick bake ovens in my own interpreter days at Old World Wisconsin. In the photo below, the oven door is open. When the oven was hot enough, I’d use a hoe-type tool to rake  the coals and ashes into a chamber below.  (In the photo, that opening is covered with the board below the oven door.)  Later I’d open the little floor-level door  below the oven and shovel the cold ashes out.

Old World Wisconsin Schottler

Old World Wisconsin Schottler Kathleen Ernst

That’s me, explaining the process to visitors.

I used the long-handled paddle leaning against the wall to the left of the oven to place the bread dough into the oven, and remove the finished loaves. The length of the pole gives you an idea of how big the oven is!

Experienced bakers knew how to get the most out of a hot oven. When the bread came out, smaller items such as coffeecakes went in.  When they were done, there just might be enough heat left to bake a pan or two of cookies.

This kitchen is at a farm restored to 1875, which has a modern cookstove. So why would someone still use a bake oven? Perhaps she needed a dozen loaves to feed a hungry farm crew, as we did the day this picture was taken.

Michael Douglass Schottler summerkitchen

All from a single baking.

It took some practice to get the hang of using a brick bake oven. But one taste of hot, crusty bread spread with homemade butter made it all worthwhile.

Baking Bread With Caroline

March 9, 2014

When I was a kid, I read about a girl in colonial times whose family had kept a crock of sourdough going from generation to generation. I’ve been fascinated with the idea of making bread with sourdough starter ever since.

Our great-great-grandmothers used sourdough starter to make bread rise in the days before commercial quick-rise yeasts were available. The starter nurtures naturally-occurring yeasts and bacteria.  This is the type of bread mentioned in Meet Caroline.

Meet Caroline:  An American GirlWant to give it a try? It’s a fun inter-generational project. Working with sourdough requires patience and practice, but the basic process is quite simple.

There are probably as many recipes for bread baked from homemade sourdough starter as there are bakers.  I’m sharing the process that has, after a fair amount of experimentation, worked for me.

Baking without commercial yeast means that the process takes a while. I make starter on a Saturday, tend it for a week, and bake the following weekend.

All you need to begin is flour and water.  Use a good-quality whole-grain flour. Flour which has been heavily processed might contain traces of chemicals that could kill the rise. For your first batch I suggest using distilled water for the same reason.  Once you’ve had success, you can try using tap water or other types of flour.

bread 1

 Day 1:
Stir 2 c. flour and 2 c. water together.

sourdough 1

I use my grandma’s mixing bowl.

Cover with a towel and let rest at in a warm spot—about 70 degrees is ideal. If it’s colder, the microorganisms will grow more slowly.

sourdough 2

My starter lives on the kitchen counter.

Days 2-5:
Stir 1/4 c. of flour and 1/4 c. water into the starter. Cover with a towel.

After a day or so you should see bubbles forming.  The starter will develop a pleasantly sour smell.  It should not change color; if it turns black or takes on a pinkish tinge, discard.

sourdough 4

Day 3.

sourdough 6

Day 5.

The starter should  get a little more active and frothy each day.  The yeast in the air and flour are happily consuming the flour’s natural sugar, and releasing carbon dioxide bubbles.

sourdough 7

The starter is about the consistency of pancake batter.

Day 6:
Remove 2 cups of starter and place in a clean bowl.  Stir in 4 cups of flour, 1-1/4 c. water, 2 t. salt, and 2 T. honey. (You can use sugar if you don’t have honey on hand.)  If the result is too sticky to knead, add more flour a little at a time, just until the mass holds together.

sourdough 8

Ready for phase 2.

Knead the dough on a counter or bread board until smooth, about 5-10 minutes.

sourdough bread 9

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with a towel, and set in a warm place. Let the dough rise for 8-12 hours. Give or take. I mix the dough right before going to bed and let it rest overnight.

sourdough 9

About two hours into the rise…

sourdough rise

…and after 12 hours. The glass bowl reveals all the action taking place in the dough.

Lightly grease a pie plate and gently place the risen dough in the center. You could use a cast iron skillet, too.

sourdough 10

The dough should feel puffy and active.

Cover with a damp towel and let rise 4-6 hours. Make several slashes about 1/2″ deep in the top of the loaf with a sharp knife. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick tester emerges dry.

sourdough bread loaf

A beautiful loaf!

After you’ve had success, you can experiment by using different types of flour and adding herbs, fruit, etc.

If you want to keep your starter going, spoon what was left in the original bowl into a clean container.  While a dry towel was necessary during the first week to allow wild yeast cells easy access, the starter now needs more protection to keep a crust from forming. Caroline might have used a crock with lid left a bit ajar.  You can  use a bowl covered with a plate.

If you’ve read Meet Caroline, you know that Caroline struggles to succeed at this bread-baking process:

Grandmother was teaching Caroline how to make bread, but somehow, Caroline never seemed able to mix in just the right amount of flour and water, or knead the dough to the perfect silky-smooth texture. Her loaves  turned out heavy and hard.

Like Caroline, I had a few failures on the way to a good loaf of sourdough bread. This is what happened when I didn’t give the dough enough time to rise.

sourdough mistake 1

Doorstop.

And this is what happened when I forgot to slash the top of the loaf.

sourdough mistake 2

Steam split the loaf along the sides.  It tasted OK, but didn’t look nice.

So don’t be discouraged if it takes you a couple of tries to produce a successful loaf of bread with homemade sourdough starter. The results are worth it!

sourdough bread slice

Still warm and spread with homemade apple butter – yum!

An 1812 Gunboat

January 20, 2014

When I began planning the Caroline Abbott books for American Girl, I quickly decided to make Caroline’s father a shipbuilder. The war in the Great Lakes was largely a naval war, and I wanted Caroline and her family to be part of it.

There was a large and well documented naval shipyard in Sackets Harbor, New York. Builders there worked on huge ships like the Oneida.

Although this photo was taken many years after Caroline's time, it clearly shows the natural harbor.  Caroline's Papa knew the harbor would make the perfect spot for a shipyard---and once the War of 1812 began, US Navy officers  knew that too.

This photo was taken many years after Caroline’s time.  The US Navy’s shipyard produced ships that towered over the village.

I squeezed the fictional Abbott’s Shipyard just down the shore from the naval yard in Sackets Harbor. It wouldn’t have made sense to have the men at Abbott’s also building enormous vessels. Instead, I decided that Caroline’s family shipyard would produce gunboats.

While writing the series, I studied pictures of gunboats. Recently, however, I got to see a real one! Part of one, anyway.

Fort Wellington Gunboat

That’s me looking at the remains. You can get a sense of the boat’s size.

A sunken British gunboat was discovered decades ago in a small inlet on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River. Only the bottom, or hull, remained. Over the years, shifting ice likely tore the upper wood away.

The location is about 30 miles from the eastern end of Lake Ontario. (Sackets Harbor, where Caroline lives, is very close to that eastern end of the lake.) Naval historians believe this boat was built during the War of 1812.

Parks Canada Underwater Archaeology Service raised the remains of the shipwreck in 1967. As you can imagine, it was tricky work!

gunboat.1966 fort wellington

The shipwreck being raised in the 1960s. Parks Canada photo.

The remains are now safely exhibited at Fort Wellington National Historic Site of Canada, which is a wonderful place to learn more about the War of 1812 in the area were the Caroline books are set.

Fort Wellington gunboat

Parks Canada Conservator Flora Davidson secures loose parts of the gunboat wreck at St Lawrence Islands National Park in Mallorytown in preparation for its move to Fort Wellington in Prescott, Ontario. Parks Canada photograph.

Gunboats were of vital importance on Lake Ontario during the War of 1812. They were shallow boats designed to carry one or more guns that could fire on other ships or on targets along the shoreline. They were also used to carry supplies or troops. Gunboats had sails, but they also carried long oars called sweeps, which required six or eight men to row.

The gunboat at Fort Wellington is displayed in an exhibit that includes this marvelous painting, making it easy to imagine how it was originally used.

gunboat Fort Wellington

Exhibit artwork by David Kanietakeron and Peter Rindlisbacher.

gunboat fort wellington

And here’s a model of what this gunboat probably looked like.

You can compare the model and the painting with what’s left of the vessel.

fort wellington gunboat

fort wellington gunboat

Other exhibits tell different parts of the War of 1812 story, and helped me imagine life during Caroline Abbott’s time.

Fort Wellington

Jarvis Hanks was a young drummer boy from Vermont. Lavinia York was the wife of the sheriff of a border town in New York. Letters and other writings left by people who lived during the War of 1812 provide wonderful glimpses of the past.

Fort Wellington

Original nails, tools, and a man’s boot—just as Caroline might have seen them.

Fort Wellington

This exhibit painting suggests what a home in Prescott, Ontario (Upper Canada) might have looked like. (It reminded me of Caroline’s cousin Lydia’s farm in Upper Canada!) Prescott is right across the St. Lawrence River from Ogdensburg, New York.

After reading about and thinking about and imagining gunboats, it was exciting to see the bones of a real one on display! If you have a chance to explore Sackets Harbor, New York, I highly recommend a sidetrip to Fort Wellington National Historic Site in Prescott, Ontario.

Changes For Caroline

August 11, 2013

THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY

Caroline receives a letter asking her to come and help on Uncle Aaron’s farm. Although she hates to leave her family, Caroline is pleased to see her cousin Lydia—and to meet Lydia’s pretty cow and sweet baby calf! Determined to help out in any way she can, Caroline keeps watch when a thief starts sneaking around the farm. Then she makes an unexpected discovery—and learns that some things are not as simple as they seem.

ChangesForCarolineHiRes

I had a lot of flexibility when developing a plan for Caroline Abbott’s six books, which was great! However, I did try to include familiar themes in Caroline’s stories. Traditionally, the six-book sets created for American Girl’s historical characters have ended with a “Changes” book. I liked the idea of giving Caroline new ways to grow and change, so I decided to take her away—temporarily!—from her beloved Lake Ontario. When the book begins, Caroline receives a summons to help at her cousin Lydia’s brand new family farm.

To learn more about farm life in rural New York two hundred years ago, I visited the Pioneer Farm at Genesee Country Village.

Genesee Country Village

Built in 1809, the Pioneer Farm is presented as it looked about 1820.

Genesee Country Village

Since Caroline and Lydia were responsible for kitchen chores, I enjoyed chatting with the interpreter about period cooking and baking.

Genesee Country Village

And here’s the garden. Growing food, and protecting it from pests, was essential to survival.

Since I spent twelve years working at Old World Wisconsin, an outdoor museum that includes nine restored farms, I was pretty comfortable writing about farm life. And when my colleagues at American Girl suggested including a calf, I was excited by the opportunity to learn more about old breeds of cattle.

Modern farmers tend to raise only a few breeds of cows, pigs, sheep, and other livestock. For example, Holstein cows are the most popular on dairy farms today. Holsteins don’t provide the richest milk, but they provide more milk than any other breed.

300px-Cow_female_black_white

Holstein (Wikipedia photo)

Lots of very old breeds of livestock are in danger of becoming extinct. Historic sites around the world play an important role in saving rare breeds from extinction. To learn more about cattle in Caroline’s era, I looked at the breeds being raised at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. (Curious?  You can learn more about Colonial Williamsburg’s Rare Breeds Program here.) Since that site interprets a period before the War of 1812, I could be confident that the animals they raise were known in the United States in Caroline’s time.

I discovered a beautiful breed, American Red Milking Devons.

Cow84_R1

(Colonial Williamsburg photo)

Their rich milk was prized for butter and cheese production. They were easy to care for, intelligent and steady work animals, and provided quality meat.

milking_devon

(Colonial Williamsburg photo)

Caroline Abbott isn’t a farm girl, so when she arrives at her cousin’s farm, she’s not sure that she wants to get close to one of these big cows!

cow

(Colonial Williamsburg photo)

Then Caroline learns that her job will be tending and training a baby calf.  One look, and her heart melts!

5

(Colonial Williamsburg photo)

The photo above provided inspiration for Garnet, the baby calf in Changes For Caroline.

Changes Caroline Calf284w

(Detail from one of Robert Papp’s marvelous illustrations in Changes For Caroline.)

Training Garnet wasn’t enough to make a whole story, of course. I needed to create a bigger plotline, something to keep readers turning the pages.

(WARNING! SPOILER ALERT! I’m about to give a big hint about something mysterious that happens in the story. If you haven’t read Changes For Caroline, and you don’t want to ruin the surprise, stop reading now.)

While doing my very early research about life for women and girls in 1812, I visited Fort George, a National Historic Site of Canada. I talked with a wonderful interpreter who told me about the children of soldiers who served during the War of 1812, both British and Americans.

Interpreter in the enlisted men's barracks.

The interpreter in the enlisted men’s barracks.

Although some officers brought their families along to their new postings, only a few wives and children were lucky enough to travel with the “common” soldiers.

It was a hard life. They lived in the barracks, and both women and children were expected to work. Girls helped with cooking and laundry and sewing.

Hanging blankets provided a family's only privacy.  Children slept wherever they could find a spot.  Wives and children were expected to work.

Hanging blankets provided a family’s only privacy. Children slept wherever they could find a spot.

And if a husband and father was killed in battle, his wife had to either marry another soldier or leave the barracks—perhaps with no other place to go.

I was touched by the stories I heard, and wanted to include something about the lives of army children in the Caroline series. Changes for Caroline provided the perfect opportunity.

I hope you enjoy reading as Caroline meets new challenges. And I hope you find the final chapter a perfect ending—not just for this book, but for the six-book series.

Caroline’s Battle

July 14, 2013

THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY

Caroline'sBattleHiRes

People often ask why Sackets Harbor, NY, was chosen as Caroline Abbott’s home town. When I was invited to create an 1812 character for American Girl, I explored several possibilities. In the end, though, I recommended that we locate the new character on the shore of Lake Ontario. Once my editors had agreed, I considered options and decided to focus on the village of Sackets Harbor.

First, it seemed that few people outside the region knew how important the Great Lakes were during the War of 1812. I certainly hadn’t understood that.

Second, a number of 1812-era buildings are still standing in Sackets Harbor. New York has also preserved important ground in the village as an historic site. I knew that readers would be able to visit Sackets Harbor and easily imagine Caroline there.

Although no single house was used as the basis for the Abbott home in the Caroline books, a number of period homes---like this one---provided inspiration.

Although no single house was used as the basis for the Abbott home in the Caroline books, a number of period homes—like this one—provided inspiration.

Finally, a lot of exciting things happened there during the war, giving me fantastic plot possibilities. American military leaders chose Sackets Harbor as its base for the Great Lakes, and established a navy shipyard there. The British, just 30 miles away, wanted badly to take the town and seize or destroy  supplies and ships.

The hardest part was picking and choosing from all the wonderful plot possibilities. I couldn’t fit everything into six books!

The British sailed across Lake Ontario soon after the war began in 1812, and a brief bombardment took place.

DSCF1951

That bombardment became part of the first book in the series, Meet Caroline.

The Second Battle of Sackets Harbor took place on May 29th, 1813. This time a British force landed and tried to capture the town.

800px-SacketsHarbor1813

This map shows the protected harbor, where the shipyards were located. The ship shown at the mouth of the harbor, General Pike, had not yet been launched. The British wanted to destroy the Pike.  (Lossing’s Pictorial Field Book of the War of 1812)

The 1813 attack forms the heart of Caroline’s Battle.

Sackets Harbor reenactment

Farmers and craftsmen hurried from their homes to help defend Sackets Harbor.

American naval officers decided that they would burn their shipyard if the British broke through the ring of defenses.

Sackets Harbor reenactment

Sackets Harbor reenactment

Caroline and Mama, left alone to defend Abbott’s Shipyard, get the same order.  Caroline isn’t sure it’s an order she can obey.

Sackets Harbor reenactment

When the battle begins, the shipyard workers are ordered to join the defensive lines. This fellow reminded me of Mr. Tate.

I always try to incorporate real historical events into my fiction. In this case, I couldn’t have made up anything more dramatic or poignant than what really happened in Sackets Harbor that day.

When I first visited Sackets Harbor to explore and do research, I timed my visit to coincide with a reenactment. Watching, and talking with the participants, helped me imagine the chaos Caroline faced.

Sackets Harbor reenactment

Sackets Harbor reenactment

Sackets Harbor reenactment

Sackets Harbor reenactment

Sackets Harbor reenactment

Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site is a wonderful place to explore.  The reenactment takes place every year, and during summer months interpreters can help visitors imagine what happened on that very ground in 1813.

I hope that Caroline’s Battle is an exciting and satisfying read.  I also hope it helps remind us all that war affects not just soldiers and sailors, but civilians too.

Traitor in the Shipyard Giveaway Winners!

February 21, 2013

There was such a wonderful response to the giveaway that I decided to pull six names from the hat instead of three.  Two of the winners came from entries here on Sites and Stories.  Congratulations to Kelly and Lindsey Z.!

Traitor In The Shipyard Cover-Original72DPI

A Giveaway for Caroline Fans!

February 17, 2013

The publication date for Traitor in the Shipyard is February 26, but I’m giving away three hardcover copies this week! To enter the drawing, leave a comment here (or on my Facebook page) by Wednesday, Feb. 20.

Traitor in the Shipyard by Kathleen Ernst

Winners, announced on Thursday, will get their personalized copies on (or shortly after) the release date. Good luck!

Caroline’s Winter Fun

January 31, 2013

Do you like winter? Caroline Abbott does. I do too, which made the third book of the Caroline series, A Surprise For Caroline, a lot of fun to write.

A Surprise For Caroline by Kathleen Ernst

Isn’t this cover gorgeous?  I love the way illustrator Robert Papp captured the winter landscape.

When the book opens, Caroline is facing a new challenge. Two other girls are staying in the Abbott home: Lydia, Caroline’s cousin; and Rhonda, the daughter of an army officer stationed in Sackets Harbor. Caroline has no trouble getting along with either girl, but when all three of them are together, things get tricky.

Caroline Abbott display, American Girl Store - Chicago

Caroline’s skates would have looked much like these exhibited at the American Girl store in Chicago.

Caroline dearly loves to skate, especially the feeling of gliding effortlessly over the ice. She also has a cherished memory of skating by moonlight with her papa.

Lots of people in the 1800s skated at night if the moon was full and the sky was clear.

Lots of people in the 1800s skated at night if the moon was full and the sky was clear.  (Source unknown)

Unfortunately, Rhonda does not enjoy skating. Caroline struggles to find an outdoor game all three girls can enjoy.

Can you imagine ice skating in a long skirt, and a wool cape instead of a down-filled parka?  This painting depicts a scene about 50 years after my story,  but it reminds me of  Caroline and her friends.  (Winslow Homer)

Can you imagine ice skating in a long skirt, and a wool cape instead of a down-filled parka? This depicts a scene about 50 years after my story, but it reminds me of Caroline and her friends. (Winslow Homer)

Winter in the Canada-U.S. border region during the War of 1812 could be quite challenging. In February, 1813, one British officer wrote in his diary about visiting sentries on a winter night: “It was freezing very hard, the Thermometer somewhere like 30 degrees below zero.  …The most distant sentry was placed near a wood which was our most vulnerable point from the United States—if a moose could have travelled in such intolerable cold.”

The officer thought he caught one of the sentries drunk—quite a serious offense in war-time! He later concluded, however, that the poor sentry had not been drinking; instead he was stumbling and slurring his words because of the severe cold. (Merry Hearts Make Light Days:  The War of 1812 Journal of Lieutenant John Le Couteur, 104th Foot, edited by Donald E. Graves.)

I don’t imagine that Caroline would want to play outside for very long if the temperature was 30 degrees below zero. Still, kids in 1812 liked to play as much as kids today do! Whenever time and conditions permitted, children could be found outside skating, sledding, or making up their own amusements.

currier_n_ives_skating

If you look closely, you can see several different cold weather activities.  (Currier & Ives)

What winter fun do you enjoy?

Traitor in the Shipyard!

January 6, 2013

Writing the six-book Caroline Abbott series for American Girl gave me lots of opportunities to develop fascinating aspects of history into plots. Even so, the story of Sackets Harbor during the War of 1812 is so rich that I had to leave lots of things out.

All along, I hoped that I’d be invited to write a mystery for Caroline. And I was! Traitor in the Shipyard will be available in February, 2013.

Looks spooky, doesn’t it?

As I did research and developed ideas for the original Caroline books, I found many references to historical events that seemed perfect for a mystery plot. After all, Caroline Abbott lived right on the border between the United States and British territory. Before war was declared, people on both sides of Lake Ontario frequently traveled back and forth.

Once the war started, no one was sure if they could trust former friends and neighbors. Who had decided to be loyal to the United States?  Who chose to work for the British?

Sackets Harbor, NY

The British colony of Upper Canada was only a short sail away from Sackets Harbor, NY. (Google Maps)

British spies were particularly interested in American shipbuilding efforts. When Traitor in the Shipyard begins, Caroline, her family, and workers at Abbott’s shipyard are racing to build ships the American Navy desperately needs to defend Sackets Harbor from British attack.

Meanwhile, workers at the Navy shipyard are finishing the USS General Pike. At the time of its launch in 1813, Pike was the largest warship on Lake Ontario.

586107.ussgeneralpike680w

A period drawing of  USS General Pike.  (Wikipedia)

Caroline knows very well what’s at stake. In chapter one, she talks with her friend Hosea, a sailmaker:

“Have you heard when General Pike will be ready?” she asked. Once complete, the frigate would be the mightiest vessel ever to sail Lake Ontario.

“The sails aren’t finished.” Hosea glanced over his shoulder, as if making sure that no one else could hear. “The navy is also waiting for a shipment of gunpowder. With twenty-eight cannons aboard, General Pike needs ten thousand pounds.”

“Gracious!” Caroline was startled.

“And until Pike launches, the British rule the lake.” Hosea looked frustrated. “It’s maddening to see our fleet bottled up here to protect General Pike while British ships cruise about Lake Ontario at will.”

“Papa says the navy’s most important job right now is protecting General Pike,” she said.

Hosea nodded. “Our enemies want desperately to seize or destroy Pike before it ever sets sail. If that happens, the war on the Great Lakes will be lost.”

Caroline looked back over the harbor. If the Americans didn’t get General Pike into service soon, they might not be able to defend themselves.

Caroline is worried when she learns that spies may be lurking in Sackets Harbor. Then, a long lost friend of Papa’s shows up. Papa is delighted to give him at job at Abbott’s, but soon, strange things start going wrong. Caroline is sure a spy is making trouble at the yard—but it is one of Abbott’s trusted workers, whom she has known all her life, or could it be Papa’s dear friend?

I hope you enjoy Traitor in the Shipyard as a good adventure story… and I also hope it helps you imagine what the people of Sackets Harbor faced every day during the War of 1812.

Caroline’s Map

October 19, 2012

I discovered map samplers while doing research about girls’ lives during Caroline Abbott’s time.  I knew right away I wanted to include one in Caroline’s stories! One of the fun things about writing historical fiction is the chance to spotlight interesting but little-known aspects of the past.

You may be familiar with traditional samplers from the 1700s and 1800s. Often, girls were expected to practice fine stitching by creating a sampler of embroidery stitches. They usually included the alphabet, and sometimes included pictures made of thread as well.

Sarah Kurtz was 9 years old when she made this sampler in 1804.
(Smithsonian Institution/National Museum of American History.)

Map samplers were less common.  When a girl created a map, she was practicing fine stitching and learning a geography lesson at the same time!  Examples of map samplers date from about the 1770s to the 1840s.  Some historians believe that current events, such as the American Revolution and the War of 1812, made people especially curious about geography during that period.

Most girls drew the map on pale background cloth, and then stitched over the lines.  Later, printed patterns became available.  Some map publishers began to print maps on cloth and paper intended for needlework.

This map made by Catalina Juliana shows New York and neighboring states.   (Smithsonian Institution/National Museum of American History Collection.)

Often such maps were part of the lessons at girls’ schools.  Students at one such school in Pennsylvania even embroidered globes!  Caroline, though, lives too far away from a city to attend a formal school.  She has learned needlework from Mama and Grandmother.

This map was stitched by Cecelia Lewis of New York in 1809.
(Wisconsin Historical Society Online Collection.)

Since Caroline loves to sew, and loves the place she lives, I decided to have her stitch a map that shows the east end of Lake Ontario.  In Meet Caroline, the project is well underway.

A talented seamstress at American Girl embroidered this map to represent the one described in the Caroline stories. Isn’t it wonderful?  The K marks the British town of Kingston.  SH, of course, shows Caroline’s home in Sackets Harbor.

Caroline plans to finish her map and make it into a firescreen for Papa.

This old fire screen features a lady or girl’s beautiful stitchery. People in Caroline’s day sometimes used firelight to read by, and screens shielded them from the worst of the fire’s heat.  (Private collection.)

In the second story, Caroline’s Secret Message, I needed to think of a way that Caroline might be able to pass some important information to her father—right under the nose of a British soldier!  Caroline’s map provided the perfect opportunity.

This display from American Girl Place in Chicago shows Caroline’s basket packed for the trip across Lake Ontario with Mama.

Caroline’s embroidered map has captured the imagination of many readers.  In the stories, working on the map helps calm Caroline’s nerves when she’s worried, and helps her solve a problem that had stumped the adults.

That’s me showing the map at the American Girl store in Minneapolis.

Embroidery also lets Caroline be creative.  Do you have any similar hobbies? How do they make you feel?