Mother Goose Birthday Party (1884)

Photo of young boy in elaborate lace collar
James Branch Cabell, c. 1884
Special Collections and Archives, VCU Libraries

On April 16, 1884 the “Local Matters” section of the Richmond State, reported on a Mother Goose costume party held two days earlier in celebration of James Branch Cabell’s fifth birthday. As children’s birthday parties and public notice of the same were not common at the time, this event sheds light on both the social standing of the Branch and Cabell families and the history of childhood.

Some 75 guests attended the party, among them a number of these children who grew up to be important participants in Richmond’s business, civic and art communities. Young James led the Grand March dressed in a costume of pink and green satin and carrying a golden egg. At his side was Gabriella Brooke Moncure, who would become his longtime muse and to whom he would dedicate Cords of Vanity (1909).

The party was held at 101 East Franklin Street, in Richmond, the home of Martha Louise Patteson Branch (1831-1908), Cabell’s maternal grandmother. Cabell was born on the third floor of the house. Today the Richmond Public Library occupies almost the entire block.

Martha Orr Davenport graciously allowed VCU Libraries Special Collections and Archives to scan one of the original party invitations in the early 2000s. The invitation, illustrated with Old Mother Hubbard and her dog, was sent to the mother and uncle of Warwick Davenport, Mrs. Davenport’s husband. It was addressed to Margaret Warwick and Byrd Warwick.

photograph of house on a street corner
Branch house, 101 E. Franklin Ave., Richmond, Va
Special Collections and Archives, VCU Libraries

The following is a transcription of the notice of James Branch Cabell’s birthday party from the Richmond State, April 16, 1884, p. 4

newspaper clipping "Local Matters. Mother Goose Party"
Richmond State, April 16, 1884, p.4


Mother Goose Party.

Rarely in this hum-drum life of ours do we become participants in so beautiful a scene as the one we had the pleasure of witnessing on Easter Monday from 6 to 9 o’clock P.M. The occasion was the fifth birthday of Master James Branch Cabell, the eldest grandson of Mrs. M. L. Branch, and her house, No. 101 east Franklin, upon that night was the theatre of the prettiest Mother Goose party ever seen in our midst.

The juveniles ranked in number about seventy-five and from the ages of two years to ten. The hero of the occasion headed the grand march (which was played by Prof. Shepperdson) as Mother Goose’s son Jack, in a lovely costume of pink and green satin, perfectly gotten up, even to the golden egg in his hand. By his side walked Mother Goose herself — viz., Miss Ella [Gabriella] Moncure. The quaint figure performed her part to the life, watching over her son Jack and his precious egg with a vigilant eye. Masters Robert G. Cabell and John Lottier Cabell were Little Boy Blue and Lavender Blue, two of the most attractive characters of the evening. Master Thomas McAdam[s] represented the Little Soldier no Bigger than my Thumb, and was so perfect in looks and so military in bearing as to win the hearts of all the young damsels, especially of Dame Trot, an old lady in name, but in reality a miss of four years–Miss Kate Minor, a sweet creature, who is destined to be one of our future belles. Little Master Bowie, aged eighteen months, as Bobbie Shafto, in blue satin sailor suit and bearing a comb to use as “combing down his yellow hair,” was the observed of all observers.

All of the characters in Mother Goose’s volume were present but we could only gather a portion of the names and what they represented as follows: Willie Cabell and Miss Florence Cabell, Knave of Hearts and Mary Quite Contrary; both looked lovely and were much admired; Maria Dunlop, Queen of Spades; Nannie Dunlop, Bo-Peep; Davenport Williams, Tom, the Piper’s Son; Misses Carrie and Flossie Talbott — one Queen of Hearts, the other as Mary Quite Contrary (this seemed to be a favorite character; Marshall Vest, Boy Blue; Steward Lottier, Tom, the Piper’s Son; Lewis Brander, the same, but bearing with him his stolen pig, whose grunts appeared to amuse the spectators greatly; Willie Hunt, King of Hearts; John Coke, Boy Blue; Milkmaid, Miss Bettie Booker; John Lee, Knave of Hearts; Jack the Nimble Master; Charles Garnett, and he was truly a nimble fellow; his polite sister, Bessie, as Mary Quite Contrary, was just as funny and sweet as possible; Miss Ida Stegar, as Dame Trot, her sister Nannie as Bo Peep, and Master Overton as Little Boy Blue; Master Willie Watkins and his sister Alice as King of Hearts and Mary Quite Contrary. If this young King as a man is as handsome as he looked Monday night he will have no difficulty in being virtually a king of hearts.

Old Mother Hubbard illustration Invitation to Cabell's birthday party 1884
Mother Goose Party Invitation, 1884
Addressed to Margaret and Warwick Davenport
Image: Courtesy Martha Orr Davenport

Charlie Talbott, as Tom the Piper’s Son, Misses Maud and Arline Stokes and their cousin, Miss Mary Marshall–the first Bettie Blue, second Curly Locks, and the third Bonnie Lassie; were a beautiful trio; Walker Kerr as Willie Boy; Daffydoundilly, Miss Delia Tompkins, a lovely blonde and very piquant in manner; her sister Nellie as Miss Moffett, was not one bit afrad [sic] of the big black spider; Randolph Brooks, Tommy Snooks, but no Bessie Brooks as his companion; Jack and Jill were beautifully represented by Miss Lula and Master Willie Isaacs; Roy Pace was Old King Cole’s fiddler, whilst his majesty proved a perfect counterfeit in Master Richard Pegram McIlwaine a beautiful boy of six years, and as merry a soul as was the real King Cole; Miss Phinnie Pegram as Bo Peep, looked charmingly; Master Jimmie Lay, as Boy Blue, and his little sister Carrie, the old woman who swept the cobwebs from the sky. Robinson Crusoe found a fine imitation in Master James Rutherford. One of the most amusing characters present was Dr. Foster, as acted by Master Watkins, Ellerson, his sister, Roy, a beautiful curly locks, and Miss Ellen Pensiu, and Master Joel as Milk-Maid, and Joe, who went to sea. Miss Lizzie Davenport and Miss Alise were Mother Hubbard and Queen of Hearts. The first was an especially good character. Bessie Catlin, Queen of Hearts, a very pretty young lady.

Miss Annie Lee Alfriend also portrayed Queen of Hearts. Little Tom Tittle-Mouse, by Master Isaac Davenport, was well carried out. The little boy who brought his wife home in a wheelbarrow, Master James McCaw, and his sister, Miss Annie; but we are happy to state although the wheelbarrow broke, the “gude wife” was not hurt by the fall. Tinie Martin as Miss Moffett, Misses Lelia and Connie [unreadable] and Curly Locks were both lovely characters, Miss Bessie Smith as the Old Woman who went to market to sell eggs looked beautiful, and sold her eggs to admirers. Robin’s Cook, by Miss Mary McCaw was very prettily gotten up, and with such a cook a life in the kitchen would be heavenly. Little Proud Lady, by Miss Kate Talley; she did indeed look beautifully proud.

Miss Florine Hirsh made a beautiful Bo Peep as did also Miss Maggie Branch a real Titianesque beauty. Miss Sallie Bruce as Bettie Blue was charming, and her brother Charlie, as Tom the Piper, played all of the tunes he knew when he was young. Misses Ethel and Mary Pace were present, Miss Mary as a Contrary Mary, which we feel sure she was not, and Miss Ethel unable to take character because of a broken arm. Miss E. Whitlock was also Mary Quite Contrary; she was a pretty little girl and will learn to be anything else but contrary before she grows up we feel sure.

If we have omitted any names it is only because we were so bewildered by the beautiful cortege as to lose our wits and those left out must pardon the omission. The parlors were handsomely decorated with Easter lilies and doves, and from the centre arch hung three large Easter eggs. The supper table was adorned with flowers and a golden nest with a goose ridden by Old Mother Goosey, which nest was filled with pretty eggs, one for each girl, afforded much delight. The merry party broke up at 9 o’clock, and all left wishing Master Cabell many happy returns.