Inside this Issue
Glimpse into the lives and passions of the diverse group of women who comprise today’s DAR membership.
Take a step inside the DAR Museum for a closer look at its fascinating collection.
Learn about the interesting historical articles from this issue.
To Come in Our Next Issue
Preview the exciting stories to be featured in the next issue of American Spirit.
Monument Magician: Mary Ruden
Volume 154, Number 1
By Lena Anthony
Photograph courtesy of Mary Ruden
When Mary Ruden moved from South Florida to East Tennessee 12 years ago, she took a look around the historic squares and parks of her new home and saw a problem. The markers and monuments commemorating the region’s rich Revolutionary War history were in disrepair. Bronze plaques had corroded to the point of being unreadable, and stone statues were cracking and crumbling. Fortunately for her community, Ms. Ruden is a qualified restoration specialist.
As an artist and welder who frequently works with bronze and metals, Ms. Ruden wasted no time offering her services. Her first project was restoring the monument to the Overmountain Men at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park in Elizabethton, Tenn.
Installed in 1999, the 13-foot bronze statue had never been restored and had become extremely corroded. “It should really be restored about every five years,” said Ms. Ruden, member of Spencer Clack DAR Chapter, Sevierville, Tenn. “Bronze is an alloy of many metals, namely copper, which needs restoration and protection from the elements as it undergoes discoloration from oxidation. It can become damaged if neglected, too.”
Soon after this first project, she was hired to restore the 14-foot Fort Watauga monument, which required expertise in both metals and stonework. First erected in 1909, the three-sided DAR monument marks the spot where the settlers’ fort was built west of the Alleghany Mountains in 1770. A century later, its bronze components had corroded, the Tennessee limestone base had cracked, and the capstone had fallen off and was nowhere to be found.
“The state regent called, saying everyone was afraid to touch it, that’s how bad off it was,” Ms. Ruden said. “The cracks were so wide you could stick a pencil in them.”
Undaunted by the tough project, Ms. Ruden assembled scaffolding and got to work, restoring the monument from morning until sundown for a full week. She even helped locate the missing capstone, though the local fire department had to be the ones to return it to the top. “Now the monument looks like the way it was intended,” she said. “People who see it today can better appreciate these events that happened so long ago.”
Ms. Ruden is leaving her mark on East Tennessee in other ways, too. She recently learned about Mary Patton, a pioneer gunpowder manufacturer whose donation of hundreds of pounds of gunpowder contributed to the Patriots’ victory at the Battle of King’s Mountain, a turning point in the Revolutionary War. Realizing that Patton has received little recognition to date, Ms. Ruden created a bronze sculpture in her honor.
“When you think of women in the Revolution, you think of Betsy Ross, but what about Mary Patton?” she said. “I was so amazed no statues exist of her and that she was a lesser-known figure.”
The statue, the first in a series celebrating Tennessee’s historically significant women, depicts Patton mixing gunpowder in a kettle. Ms. Ruden modeled the kettle after an actual one owned by Patton, and her dress is typical for the time period, too. Her face, however, is obscured, because, as Ms. Ruden said, “There were no photographs or tintypes, so nobody knows for sure what she looked like.”
The statue took more than a year to finish, in part because Ms. Ruden works on multiple projects at the same time. In between her bronze sculpture series and restoration work, she also creates public art. A 6-foot-tall “Quilt Fiddle” is on display in Virginia, while her “Guitar Cow” is part of the famous Cow Parade in Austin, Texas. Her latest public art, a 7-foot sundial, was recently installed at a public park in North Carolina. An avid gardener, she also paints natural subjects such as botanicals and butterflies.
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Freedom in Sight
Volume 154, Number 1
A daguerreotype made between 1847 and 1853 of an anonymous young man is the work of Augustus Washington, who, for a short time, was the foremost photographer in Hartford, Conn.
Born in 1820 in Trenton, N.J., Washington’s father had once been enslaved in Virginia, while his mother he described as South Asian in descent. In 1843, he was the only African-American student to enter Dartmouth College. Money was in short supply, so he took up the new trade of making daguerreotypes, a photography technique popular in the 1840s and 1850s that directly exposed an image onto a silver-plated copper plate. Though fairly successful, he wasn’t able to cover his tuition and had to leave school.
In Hartford, Washington found a thriving African-American and abolitionist community, and he established his photography studio there in 1846. He advertised in antislavery newspapers, which was likely where radical abolitionist John Brown learned of his business. Sometime between 1846 and 1847, a clean-shaven Brown posed for a photograph in Washington’s studio, a flag in one hand, the other raised at the elbow as if taking an oath. This daguerreotype, now in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, is one of the most well-known images of Brown.
Though Washington was skeptical of the motives of the American Colonization Society—a group that formed to support the migration of free African-Americans to Africa but was later denounced as a harbor for racists wanting to rid the United States of African-Americans—eventually he and his wife, Cordelia, decided that Liberia might be the “last refuge of the oppressed colored man.” In 1853, they sailed with their two children for Africa. His camera helped him gain a foothold in his new country. Over the next two decades Washington became a successful businessman and served in both houses of the Liberian Congress.
For more National Treasures, please visit the DAR Museum's Featured Objects.
Visions of America: Symphonies of Stone and Steel by Bill Hudgins
Many of the nation’s bridges are engineering marvels, inspiring us with their combination of sweeping, soaring design and impressive, quotidian service.
Trade School, Revisited by Courtney Peter
The American College of the Building Arts (ACBA) in Charleston, S.C., is part trade school, part liberal arts college. By creating a laboratory for the mastery of historic techniques, ACBA fosters a continuation of exceptional craftsmanship.
America’s First Architect by Megan Hamby
Robert Mills is remembered for his designs of churches, courthouses and public works buildings. But he’s perhaps best known as the designer of the Washington Monument—both the monument in the nation’s capital and the one in Baltimore, Md.
How an Irish Immigrant Shaped the Nation’s Capital by Stephanie Green
Born in Ireland and trained in Georgian style of architecture, James Hoban emigrated to the United States after the Revolutionary War. His work caught the attention of George Washington, which led Hoban winning a national competition to build the White House.
America’s Maroons by Bill Hudgins
Africans who were either formerly or never enslaved formed communities mostly in the Caribbean, but there were also thriving ones in Florida, Louisiana and North Carolina.
Spirited Adventures: Branson, Mo. by Jamie Roberts
Missouri logging community served only by a post office and general store, Branson has transformed into a tourist beacon for the Ozark Mountain region and a sought-after getaway for music show fans.
Historic Homes: Two Centuries of Family History by Nancy Mann Jackson
The Lee-Fendall House in Alexandria, Va., was home to a number of American Patriots, politicians and soldiers in the prominent Lee family. Today, history comes alive at the house, which is open to the public for tours of the museum and garden.
Our Patriots: Illuminating Hannah Till by Abbey Dean
A former slave who eventually bought her own freedom, Hannah Till is revered for her years of loyal service as a personal cook to George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette—and for surviving the fierce winter at Valley Forge.
Plus the President General’s Message and Whatnot
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To Come in March/April 2020:
100th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage
250th Anniversary of the Boston Massacre
Visions of America: Where Women Made History