More on Lewis Miller’s Blue Dyer
As I indicated in my recent post on Lewis Miller’s drawing of the Seifert family, there is more going on here than just the very early depiction of an American Christmas tree. That post addressed why a blue dyer was an important 18th and early 19th century occupation.
Friend Jo picked up on the family scene commenting: “The look on the mother’s face–like she’s in a trance–oblivious that her children are spilling their bowls of food on the table and on the floor. And what’s with that other woman? girl? who is just standing there. Is she pointing a finger at the child under the table or to the food spilling onto the floor? I Love this drawing.”
I love it too, and have also wondered what was going on. I translated the German part of Miller’s caption and also did some quick searching on the Seiferts. Here is what I found:
According to a family history web site created by J. Frey, John Adam Seifert was born 20 November 1774. That would make “Old Seifert” 35 in 1809. Lewis Miller was only 13 in 1809, so even if he made the drawing sometime later, in his memory the blue dyer would have seemed old to young Miller.
The rest of the following family information is also from Frey’s web site on the Strine and Yessler and related families of York County. The site is well documented, with most of the citations to the John Adam and Anna Maria Lauer Seifert family citing original record transcriptions and other sources at the Historical Society of York County (now York County Heritage Trust).
The Seiferts had 10 children between 1801 and 1821. If the scene indeed depicts Christmastime 1809, Anna Maria would have been about six weeks pregnant with number four, Elizabeth, born 7 August 1810. A sentence in the caption that starts out in English and finishes in German translates to: “She mentioned this morning I have still not unlaced.” That might refer to her early pregnancy, that she didn’t need to unlace her corset yet.
The miniature adult, which is how Miller’s drawings of older children look, would be Nancy Anna, age 8. Five year old William is probably the naked child under the table, and Mary Magdalen (Polly), 16 months, is spilling the drink, which might be watered-down wine.
That brings me to the rest of Miller’s caption. In both German and English, Miller seems to give his idea of a good diet for children: “Beef broth, salad, eggs and good wine is good for the children.” Allowing children to have wine was not uncommon in that era, especially among families with European continental roots. With the sometimes questionable sanitation practices of the day, wine could be safer to drink than the water.
Seifert shows up in the York borough tax records in the early 1800s, but the family seems to have moved to Dover township around 1810. Adam died at age 47 in May 1822 and is buried at Strayer’s Cemetery. Anna Maria died sometime after 1850–she is listed at age 68 in the 1850 census, living in the household of youngest son Adam.
Click here for more on dyeing in the 19th century.
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