The National Society of Colonial Dames of America (NSCDA) is a patriotic and historical preservation organization. The Alabama chapter is one of 44 member organizations, known as corporate societies, within the NSCDA. The national organization was established in April 1891 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, amid a period of increased interest in preserving United States colonial history towards the end of the nineteenth century. Overall, the NSCDA has more than 15,000 members nationwide. The Alabama chapter was organized on February 22, 1898, and was incorporated on March 13, 1899, and now includes more than 800 members statewide. The focus of the chapter is split between historic preservation and patriotic service. Members work to preserve and restore buildings from the colonial period, create popular interest in colonial history, and impress upon young Alabamians the importance of honoring the past.
Condé-Charlotte House and Museum The Alabama chapter of the NSCDA began with 17 women in Mobile, Mobile County, who shared an interest in preserving the state’s colonial history. The president of the New York chapter asked Hortense Addison Batré, a Mobile resident who had been a member of the Maryland Society, to establish an Alabama organization after the Society of Colonial Dames decided to expand into a national society. On March 13, 1899, Batré signed the Certificate of Incorporation for the National Society of Colonial Dames in Alabama, which now hangs on the wall of the Condé-Charlotte House. Like the women in the national society, the Alabama members could trace their bloodline to someone who had lived in one of America’s 13 colonies, contributed to its founding, served in an important government position, or provided it some distinguished service among other criteria. Indeed, the Alabama founders were related to colonial governors, a deputy governor, justices, legislators, military officers. and even John Rolfe, husband of famed Powhatan tribemember Pocahontas, of Virginia history fame. Of note, Maria Ellen Clarkson Bryce was married to Peter Bryce, the doctor for whom Bryce Hospital was named. Mary Jane Welles Peabody’s uncle Gideon Welles served as the Secretary of the Navy during the American Civil War. Batré’s husband, Alfred, would own the prominent Georgia Cottage on SpringHill Ave. in Mobile and sell it to either author Augusta Jane Evans Wilson, or her father Matt Evans, in 1857. She was related to a colonel for the Province of Maryland who was prominent in what is now present-day Washington, D.C., in the 1600s.
Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne Monument The efforts to highlight America’s colonial history during the late nineteenth century coincided with other conservation movements of the time, most notably the Romantic and Transcendentalist movements, which sought to celebrate America’s natural landscape and restore an element of “wildness” to the American spirit. Whereas the Romantic and Transcendentalist movements aimed to preserve and celebrate nature, the Colonial Dames work to collect and preserve relics, traditions, and memories of U.S. colonial history in present-day Alabama. The colonial period is roughly defined from European colonization efforts in the early sixteenth century to the incorporation of the 13 colonies after the American Revolution. Alabama history is marked by early Spanish exploration of the Gulf Coast in the early sixteenth century, followed by the arrival of the French and the British in the eighteenth century, leading to the formation of the United States in 1776.
The Alabama Dames have owned, operated, and preserved the Condé-Charlotte House and Museum, located near the banks of the Mobile River, since 1957. The Condé-Charlotte House was Mobile’s first courthouse and jail before becoming the home of the Kirkbride family. To commemorate the various controlling powers during Alabama’s early history, the Condé-Charlotte House features rooms that reflect the culture of the five flags that ruled Mobile over its history: Spain, France, England, the Confederacy, and the United States.
In addition to maintaining the Condé-Charlotte House, the Alabama Dames work to support and maintain three properties collectively owned by all NSCDA societies. These properties consist of Dumbarton House in Washington, D.C., Gunston Hall Plantation in Lorton, Virginia, and Sulgrave Manor in Northamptonshire, England. The Dumbarton House, constructed in the Federal style in 1799, serves as the headquarters of the NSCDA and as a museum. Gunston Hall, a Georgian-style home built in the latter 1750s, was the home of George Mason, who heavily influenced the U.S. Constitution. Sulgrave Manor is a Tudor home built in the 1600s by Lawrence Washington, who was a direct ancestor of George Washington.
Fort Tombecbe Monument In addition to their property preservation efforts, the Alabama Dames have erected several historic markers to commemorate significant events in Alabama history. The first marker was constructed in 1906 in Bienville Square, Mobile, to honor Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne. Le Moyne and his brother Pierre served as governors of the French colony of Louisiana, which included present-day Alabama. Of the 15 markers constructed, six are placed on Soto’s Trail, which commemorates Hernando de Soto’s exploration of the southeastern United States, including what is now Alabama, in 1540. Other markers include monuments commemorating the sites of the French military installations Fort Tombecbe near present-day Epes, Sumter County, and Fort Toulouse near Wetumpka, Elmore County.
As part of their society objectives, the Alabama Dames work to inspire patriotism through a variety of national and state educational scholarships, citizenship and flag programs, and support for military service. Each year, the Alabama Dames organize celebrations for Veteran’s Day, Flag Day, and citizenship ceremonies throughout the state. Previously, the Alabama Society of Colonial Dames completed a restoration of Memorial Park in Mobile as part of their dedication to Alabama’s military history.