Do you still have the silver sixpence you wore in your wedding shoe? You are not alone if you have held on to these memory-laced keepsakes. For centuries, the wedding day attire of brides and grooms has carried enough significance for future generations to preserve as relics. The Society owns many wedding-day souvenirs from Windsor couples, and in 2012 we acquired a pair of eighteenth-century ladies’ shoe buckles that were possibly worn by Hannah Allyn (1743-1765) on January 6, 1763, the day she wed Captain James Hooker (1742-1805).
Hannah Allyn was a Windsor native and daughter of Alexander Allyn (1718-1790) and Hannah Ellsworth Allyn (1713-1796). Just nineteen years old on her wedding day, her groom, James Hooker, was a young merchant from Hartford who was expanding his father’s business into Windsor in 1762. Just like today’s brides, Hannah wore her finest attire on her wedding day. Ear bobs and a necklace would certainly have been fashionable. But in the eighteenth century, young women had another mode of accessorizing – shoe buckles.
Hannah’s shoe buckles survive in almost perfect condition. The silver buckle frames hold twenty-six stones that resemble diamonds but are actually pastes. Pastes are composed of a lead glass that is soft enough to be cut into faceted stones but is hard enough to resist scratching. The glass is clear and does not sparkle without the assistance of a thin tinfoil lining. Hannah’s paste shoe buckles shine brilliant white with only one stone missing. The buckles themselves are a rare survival, and their original packaging is even more uncommon. For almost 250 years, these buckles have been accompanied by part of their silk-lined leather box. It is on the bottom of this box that a Hooker descendant faithfully wrote a note: “Slipper Buckles / worn by Hannah Allin / wife of James Hooker / on her wedding day / 1763.”
While most wedding mementos inspire tales of long and fruitful marriages, this story is bittersweet. Hannah died in 1765 at the age of 22, just two years after marrying James Hooker. Their only son, Alexander Allyn Hooker, was only eighteen years old when he passed away in 1781. However, like the shoe buckles, Hannah’s name endured. James Hooker married twice more, and he and his third wife, Mary Chaffee (1760-1846), named their eldest daughter Hannah Allyn Hooker (1785-1859).
Many of the Hooker children migrated to New York in the nineteenth century. These shoe buckles eventually landed in the collection of the Museum of the City of New York (MCNY). This past March, the MCNY deaccessioned a portion of their costume collection, and we successfully bid on them at the auction. Hannah Allyn’s glee as she purchased her wedding day couture 250 years ago could only be matched by our delight when these shoe buckles returned to Windsor.
By Christina Keyser Vida, curator, 2012