Window on the War

In celebration of the Lincoln Bicentennial, the Lexington History Museum will be opening its Window on the War exhibit on February 12th, highlighting the diary of Frances Peter, a young girl who lived in Lexington during the Civil War.

Frances Peter was born in Lexington on January 28th, 1843 to Dr. Robert Peter and Frances Paca Dallam Peter, and was the fourth of eleven children. The family lived at the corner of Market Street and Mechanics Alley, facing what is known today as Gratz Park. Frances had epilepsy, and because of that never married, living a retired life in the home of her parents. She was eighteen at the start of the Civil War.

dr-peterjpg-croped Dr. Robert Peter was a native of Cornwall, England, who moved to the United States in 1817, eventually settling in Lexington in 1832 to study at Transylvania University. He received an MD from Transylvania in 1834, and was the Chair of Chemistry, Pharmacy, Dean and Librarian of the Medical School for many years. Considered one of America’s most respected physicians, Dr. Peter served as a U.S. Army surgeon for troops stationed near Lexington during the Civil War.

Frances Paca Dallam Peter was born near Lexington in 1815, and was a descendant of the famous Henry, Preston, and Breckinridge Families of Virginia and Kentucky. Her great uncle William Paca of Maryland was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Frances, or Frank, as her family called her, was described as a “talented charming girl,” who enjoyed drawing, reading and writing. She was educated at the Sayre Female Institute and obtained high marks in reading, writing, composition, arithmetic and history. Though she was afflicted with epilepsy, an illness that was only beginning to be understood, she maintained a positive outlook on life and refused to pity herself. During the Civil War, Frances became very interested in the state of Kentucky politics. She was a Unionist, despite not always agreeing with or supporting President Lincoln, and she objected to the Emancipation Proclamation at one point, though her view of this changed over time. peterhouse

Her diary was made of stitched-together pieces of military hospital supply paper, and in it, Frances faithfully reported on the war. She used all of the sources of information available to her, including newspapers, local gossip, information from soldiers stationed nearby, and her own first-hand experiences. Her diary also contains a great deal of information about the Morgan family, who had been close friends with the Peter family before the war drove them apart. Frances died of a seizure on August 5, 1864 at the age of 21.

On February 12th at 6:00pm, come to the Lexington History Museum to be a part of the Window on the War exhibit opening and celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday! There will be a reception featuring foods that Mary Todd Lincoln served before and while she was First Lady, and a lecture presented by Donna McCreary, about Mary Todd, “the Quintessential Hostess.” As with all of our events, the exhibit opening is free and open to the public. We look forward to seeing you!

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