When David Bush died in 1797, his will stipulated that his widow Sarah was to receive “…the use and improvement of the one third part of all the residue of my estate both real and personal…,” a common arrangement known as the “widow’s third.” One of the rooms in the house allocated for Sarah’s use was a bedroom on the first floor in the southern part of the house. Sarah Bush’s bedroom is furnished to reflect the later years of her life, after she had suffered a stroke around 1820, which deprived her of the use of her right side, and before her death in 1824. Prior to her stroke she probably slept upstairs in another room set aside for her use.
In keeping with early-nineteenth-century recommendations for the outfitting of invalid rooms with items that could be easily cleaned, the white cotton dimity bed hangings and curtains provided washable elegance. Straw matting, thought to be more sanitary than bare floors or wool carpet, cover the floor. Her 1824 inventory, a list of her belongings compiled shortly after her death, lists a second bed in her room, which would have allowed a family member or servant to be with Sarah through the night.
A favorite feature in this room is the wallpaper, which dates between 1760 and 1780. It was discovered beneath a layer of plaster when the Historical Society restored the Bush-Holley House in the 1950s. When a piece of the paper came off the wall during that restoration, it revealed a British tax stamp on the back, verifying the wallpaper’s pre-Revolutionary manufacture! The wallpaper was probably added around 1771 when the room, originally a separate building, was joined by a new hall to the main house.
Significant Objects in Sarah Bush’s Sickroom:
- Sarah Bush portrait
- Newly acquired highboy