In 2009, archaeologists found a beautiful locket in the Menokin house ruin. This cameo locket portrays the image of a woman. Who did this locket belong to? Who is this woman? A 1794 letter from Frank’s brother, William, may just be the key to unlocking this mystery!
In 1785, two years after the death of his wife, Hannah, William Lee sent his two daughters, Portia and Cornelia, to live at Menokin with Uncle Frank and Aunt Becky. Hannah Lee thought it important that her daughters grow up in Virginia. William wrote to family friends in London, Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Thorp, to further explain the desire for his daughters to grow up in Virginia. He writes, “[H]owever superior English education may be to what can be obtained here[,] yet the manners & customs of the ladies in England are so extremely different from the ladies here [in Virginia] that I never knew an instance of a young lady educated in England who could live happily here.”
He also wrote to the Thorpes requesting a momento by which Portia and Cornelia could remember them. He writes, “Our dear girls at Menokin are so importunate to have a miniature picture for each of them of your self & good Mrs. Thorp…have them set in gold to wear as bracelets…or a locket…the form should be rather a long than a round oval not too sharp at the ends…”
Could this be Mrs. Thorp on the locket? Did it once adorn the neck or wrist of young Portia or Cornelia Lee?
We hope to answer these questions with further research. In the meantime, tell us what you think and check back at Menokin Monitor for updates on this locket and other objects at Menokin.
We’d like to thank the Virginia Chapter of the Colonial Dames whose generous grant helped stabilize the locket. The locket is on display in Menokin’s Visitor’s Center.