This bonnet, made from braided horsehair, resembles expensive Italian bleached straw called Neapolitan. Horsehair had a long history of use in upholstery and millinery.
Sarah Brown and her husband William ran one of the most fashionable hotels in the Merrimack Valley. The Eagle House Hotel began as a private residence. Originally built in 1800, with elaborately carved interiors in the center of downtown Haverhill, Massachusetts, it was the home of wealthy merchant James Duncan Jr. and his family. In 1817 William Brown acquired the building, added seventy-five new rooms and established the Eagle House Hotel. The couple ran this prestigious regional institution until Sarah’s death in 1872.
This bonnet offered a popular alternative to the expensive imported Italian and French straw hats. Made from blonde horsehair and decorated with cut feather and paper “flowers,” Sarah’s bonnet reflects both social trends and economic forces at work in the tumultuous 1830s and 1840s, when the US economy swung between boom and bust cycles.