Colonial American women in burqas

Philip Fithian was a recent graduate of Princeton in 1774 when he took a job as tutor at Nomini Hall, home of one of the richest families in Virginia. His journal is an important source for information about daily life in colonial America during the time of poltical agitation just before the Revolution, at least among the1%.

In a letter of August 1774, he advised his replacement about the odd (to a Jersey Presbyterian) customs of the locals:

“The Balls, the Fish-Feasts, the Dancing-Schools, the christnings, the Cock fights, the Horse-Races, the Chariots, the Ladies [go] Masked, for it is a custom among the Westmorland Ladies whenever they go from home, to muffle up their heads, & Necks, leaving only a narrow passage for the Eyes, in Cotton or silk handkerchiefs; I was in distress for them when I first came into the Colony, for every Woman that I saw abroad, I looked upon as ill either with the Mumps or Toothache!”

From “Journal and Letters of Philip Vickers Fithian: A Plantation Tutor in the Old Dominion 1773-1774,” University Press of Virginia


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