Chapter History

Chapter 6
The Museum

True to her word, Mrs. Chenoweth opened the main floor of the Custom House as a museum for artifacts. Since 1930, many valuable items have been donated to the chapter and are on display.

Mrs. Fanny Burwell Nelson Mercer was a member of the chapter, and the great-great granddaughter of Thomas Nelson, Jr. She donated Nelson family heirlooms to the chapter, including the old trunk used by William Nelson, the Secretary used by General Thomas Nelson, Jr., and the books owned by Thomas Nelson, Jr.

Mrs. Mercer donated a silk brocade gown that had been altered and worn by her, but had originally been hand-made for a Nelson lady between 1735 and 1745.

The chapter received about 250 books from the libraries of Thomas Nelson, William Nelson, and other Nelson family members. Some were dated as early as 1711, and bore on the front cover in gold letters the name of General Nelson and William Nelson.

The Nelson family bible and the prayer book of General Nelson "in perfect state of preservation" were also given to the museum.

Thirty pieces of Spode China, used by the Nelson family and given to the museum, were used by Lafayette in 1824 when he visited Yorktown. The chapter also received a silver fish server with the Nelson coat of arms. Inside the trunk was a dressing gown owned by General Nelson and a complete uniform, two white evening vests, and baby slippers.

In 1946, the Mercer family asked for the return of the bible, secretary, and brocade dress "because they were only loaned to the chapter for safe keeping." The family was unhappy because the items were locked up and could not be viewed. They also wanted the books returned. Probably one of the reasons the articles were locked up was because Mrs. Chenoweth was afraid for their security. Somehow, she managed to resolve all these problems, and we still have most of the articles today where they are on display at the Custom House. The books, however, are at The College of William and Mary.

Members of the deGrasse family also donated valuable items to the chapter. One item was the watch and key of the Admiral, and was given by Miss Amelia Pau Fowler and Miss Alice Silvia Fowler, great-great grand-daughters of the Admiral.

Capt. R. Drace White, U.S.N., presented a copy of the painting of Versailles of Washington and French officers at Headquarters at Yorktown just before the siege. An old colored engraving of Mr. Vernon, said to be extremely rare, was given to the museum.

A very interesting map made at the time of the centennial was also given to the chapter. Very few of these maps are said to be in existence today.

Many fine paintings and other artifacts were given to the museum, including a desk which was donated by Mr. and Mrs. E. R. Behrend of Eric, Pennsylvania, in memory of Baron Von Steuben.

The museum has been open to the public, free of charge, every Sunday from June to October.

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