Raised in northern New York where the winters were cold and harsh, Eliza Schuyler Hamilton wouldn't have dreamed of setting out on a journey in a sleigh - or even an ordinary unheated carriage during the winter months - without a foot warmer like this one tucked beneath her skirts.
There were many variations in use in 18thc America, but most foot warmers (sometimes called foot stoves) were similar to this one, which has a history of being used in New York. Inside the pierced wooden box is a metal liner. Hot coals were shoveled from the hearth and placed inside the box, and the door latched shut. Heat from the coals would radiate through the punch-work piercings to give warmth like a small, portable fireplace. The metal liner kept the coals safe. The wooden exterior didn't conduct the heat, and kept the user from being burned. This foot warmer measures approximately 7" x 9" x 8".
Carrying the foot warmer by the handle on the top, a woman could then place it on the floor of her carriage or sleigh, and drape her quilted petticoats around the box to keep the heat in and around their feet. As the coals cooled, they would be replaced during stops along the way at inns for meals or to water or change horses. But foot warmers weren't just for long trips. There are contemporary references to them being used in drafty churches during long services, and in chilly houses, too - anywhere far from a fireplace where a bit of extra warmth would be welcome.
Above: Foot Warmer, late 18th century, United States (New York), Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
I, Eliza Hamilton by Susan Holloway Scott will be published September 26, 2017, by Kensington Books. Pre-order now.