Artifact Corner: Episode 18

Hi Everyone and welcome back to Artifact Corner. Today we will be looking at some Roman oil lamps, and the story behind how they came to be in our museum. These oil lamps were purchased when Frances Henrietta Delord Webb was on her honeymoon following her marriage to Henry Webb.

Frances Henrietta and Henry Webb were married on August 13, 1832, in the Gold Parlor room. Following their marriage, they traveled to Connecticut to visit Henry Webb’s family, and he could introduce Frances to his sisters. After their visit to CT, they set off for a year long honeymoon in Europe. Before they got married, Frances received word that her Aunt Julia, her father’s sister in France, had passed away. Frances was the heir to the family’s estate in France. In order to claim her inheritance, it was required that she go to Nimes to collect it. Another relative of hers was attempting to claim the inheritance, stating that Frances didn’t even exist. So, following their marriage, it was time for Frances to head to Europe and straighten things out.

Sailing to Europe in the early 1800’s was an ordeal. The average trip took four to six weeks to cross the Atlantic, but if the weather was bad, it could take up to 14 weeks! Henry and Francis left New York harbor on September 1st on a ship called the Rhone, and arrived in France on October 1st. Frances writes to her mother about the trip stating, “Sad to relate that until a day past, I have been seasick.” They cleared up the confusion over her inheritance, and traveled south from France to Italy.

It was during their time in Italy that Henry and Frances likely acquired these two lamps. Oil lamps were ubiquitous in ancient Rome. Every household had lamps, regardless of their income level. These are clay oil lamps. You can clearly see that these have been used, thanks to the blackening around the wick hole. Unlike modern oil lamps that use a type of paraffin, the most common oil used was olive oil. Oil lamps were so popular because they threw off more light than a candle and made tasks in dwindling light far easier.

Henry and Frances returned to the United States in August of 1833, after having spent almost a year abroad. Sadly, their happy union was to be short lived. After returning back from their honeymoon, Frances discovered she was pregnant. She gave birth to a healthy baby girl on February 11, 1834. Sadly, it was clear shortly thereafter that she was quite ill following the birth. She passed away from childbed fever on March 15th at the age of just 20 years old. Her daughter, also named Frances, was her sole heir, and inherited all of the pieces from her parents honeymoon. That is how we come to have these roman oil lamps in our small museum in Plattsburgh. Thanks so much for stopping by.