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Historic 19th century dress found in Lebanon home

Gabe Farmer, Democrat Correspondent • Updated Jul 26, 2013 at 10:08 PM

A 19th century dress was recently discovered in the attic of a historic Lebanon home. The dress was found to have belonged to Martha “Mattie” Ready Morgan Williamson, who has been known to be called “Murfreesboro’s own southern belle” by her admirers. 

Charles Ready, a descendant of Williamson, and his wife, Mary Campbell Williamson, discovered the dress as they prepared to sell the home Williamson’s family had lived in for five generations.   

Martha Williamson’s family had lived in the William Bowen Campbell House in Lebanon for more than 100 years. Upon deciding to sell the house, they wished to liquidate many of its contents, including the box containing Williamson’s dress. Ready contacted Aimee Lester, a liquidation coordinator, who – upon hearing of Williamson’s belongings – knew such items belonged in a museum. 

Lester contacted a friend, Margie Weatherford, in hopes that she would be interested in getting Williamson’s belongings. Weatherford saw the opportunity and value in getting the belongings. Weatherford bought Williamson’s belongings and immediately turned them over to Oaklands Historic House Museum in Murfreesboro. 

Oakland staff were said to have been excited to receive belongings of a woman who is so admired. 

The entirely hand-sewn dress is a brown silk, brocade dress. It includes a built-in corset and hook-and-eye closures. The dress is reportedly in relatively good condition considering its age of nearly a century and a half. 

The dress will be on display in Oaklands’ summer exhibition “Whispers of the Past: A Museum’s Secrets Explored,” which begins Friday and runs through Aug. 11. 

Williamson was born in 1840, the daughter of a Murfreesboro attorney. In 1862, Williamson married Kentucky Gen. John Hunt Morgan. Williamson and Morgan were married two years before he was killed in battle. 

Williamson remained a widow for about eight years until she married William Henry Williamson, a Wilson County Circuit Court judge, in Lebanon. Williamson gave birth to seven children with Henry, two of which died during infancy.

Williamson died Nov. 16, 1887 at the age of 47. Her oldest son had turned 14 only a week before. The cause of her death is thought to have been either tuberculosis or typhoid fever, which her husband had died from earlier that year. 

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