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Gallery #5 – Notable Women of Merrimack

  • Notable Women of Merrimack NH Lucy Burnap & Sisters circa 1823 Business & Patent The daughters of Jacob Burnap, Merrimack's first settled minister, were the town's first business women. Elizabeth, Ruth, Hannah, Rebecca, Abigail, Susan, and Lucy discovered a special kind of local grass they called "Dunstable straw" and wove it to create beautiful "Leghorn hats.” According to a history written in 1946 by historian Mattie (Kilborn) Webster: "Some of these bonnets were of black leghorn straw trimmed with peach colored crepe, and crowned with a beautiful bouquet of half-blown roses, lilacs and field flowers. They were often ornamented with a bow of ribbon, long ends or streamers on one side. A bouquet of wild poppies was sometimes placed in front surmounted by a plume of marabout feathers. The ribbon was either straw colored or striped. A little later the style changed. Pieces of brim was cut away at the back and drawn up at the crown with a large bow. Strings and rosettes were over the right ear. Some were sold in Boston for as much as $50. John Stark bought one for his wife Molly. They not only made bonnets but other things from grass or plated straw." The Merrimack Burnap sisters claimed the first bonnet of this type, and Lucy Burnap patented her “hats, weaving grass" with the U.S. Patent office on 16 February 1823. Photograph Source: Leghorn straw bonnet, circa 1845. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston MA.