Saturday, February 6, 2016

Bringing Historic Homes to Life: The Daggett Saltbox House

Every-so-often I like to spotlight a specific structure inside historic Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. Past postings of this nature have included Dr. Howard's Office, Firestone Farm, the Richart Carriage Shop, the Ackley Covered Bridge, and the home of Noah Webster.
But I try not to write about the buildings as if I'm a tour guide reciting lines from a script; like many of Greenfield Village's own presenters, I like to go the extra mile when I write and bring out the building's past in such a way that when you visit it, you will look at it with a different mindset...with a different set of eyes. In a way that will bring it to life.
I'm hoping for the same for this week's post about the Daggett Farmhouse
Welcome to the 1750 Daggett Farm House
Many of us visit museums - specifically open-air museums - quite often. And we love to enter the historic homes and just simply take it all in, don't we? We enjoy watching the interpreters as they go about the daily activities that emulate and teach visitors about the past: preparing meals "the old-fashioned way," cooking over a hearth or wood-burning stove, laundry, cleaning, and maybe even some out-of-doors labor. Many visitors at such places have at least a minimal interest in history, therefore probably know the basics of life "back then," and are enthralled with the general information often given.
But there is so much more...
Since I've discovered the publication of actual journals and diaries originally written a hundred years ago, or a hundred and fifty years ago, or even two hundred-plus years ago, I no longer look at the old historic houses quite the same, for these writings tell tales of everyday life as the occurrences happened. And the menial tasks written all those years ago that meant very little at the time (and still means little to most modern day historians) are like gold to a social historian like me, especially when one understands the purpose behind these chores and tasks. I feel to fully grasp the times in which the diaries are taking place, reading and researching the details of everyday life in books that go beyond politics and wars are a must. This is why I look at a historic home very differently than most normal human beings. 
Let's take the 18th century Daggett Farm House, for instance. 
From the back corner of the Daggett Farm House

I have been in this building hundreds of times and always seem to learn or discover something new with each visit. But it wasn't until I began to read journals and diaries of those who lived in the 1770s and 1780s that I fully understood and appreciated what this house actually represented.
To help explain, let's do a little background history of this New England structure to familiarize ourselves with its story:  
The Daggett house was built by Samuel Daggett in Coventry (now Andover), Connecticut around the year 1750, right about the time he married his wife, Anna Bushnell. Samuel and Anna had three children: daughters Asenath and Tabitha, and a son, Isaiah.  
Samuel Daggett was a housewright by trade and built this particular home on a spot known as Shoddy Hill Road, atop 80 acres of land, half of which had been deeded to him by his father. Samuel also framed nearly every other house in the surrounding area, as his account book at the Connecticut Historical Society attests.
Ceiling beams hand-hewn by Samuel Daggett himself back around 1750. 
How cool is that? 

In fact, Samuel Daggett was quite the busy man. Again, according to his own notations in his account book, he... 
sold flax seed
Making beer.
Yes, beer was a very popular and even
necessary beverage for colonials,
including the Daggetts. 

cradling oats, bale
digging stones
making cider
reaping and mowing
looking for timber for a house
keeping cattle
digging stones for a school house
had a loom and selling flannel cloth by 1756
use of his oxen and mare
mending carts, wheels and making yokes
built a road along his house to his neighbor’s farm
grew and sold tobacco
built and sold coffins
sold bushels and pecks of oats, wheat, corn and flax
sold cart and wheel
ploughing fields for neighbors
work about a meeting house
drawing (pulling) teeth learned from his father John
eight days work of hewing and framing, reaping and mowing
lent oxen to William Jones October 1756 to go to Haddown with a load of cheese
One would think that would be enough to keep the man plenty busy, but in order to provide for his family, Daggett had his hand in additional sources of income, including making furniture as well as chairs, spinning wheels and even, as mentioned, coffins.
The account book also refers to Samuel Daggett being paid in pounds, shillings and pence. 
The home life and daily activities of Anna and the children were closely connected to the work that Samuel did. On farms in the colonial era, each family member played an important role in producing food, clothing and household goods for the family. Anna Daggett ran the home and cared for the family. She prepared and preserved food; spun yarn; made clothing, towels and sheets; gave the children their earliest lessons in reading and writing; and fed the animals including chickens and pigs.
Asenath and Tabitha
The three Daggett children were prominent in helping out in household duties: Asenath and Tabitha would have learned the skills of "housewifery" from their mother. They would have prepared yarn by carding and spinning; made clothing, soap and candles; tended the garden; and prepared food.  The following diary entries gives us a hint of an idea of what life may have been like for Mrs. Daggett. Though the notations presented here were not written by Anna Daggett herself (they were written by one of her contemporaries, Martha Ballard), the writings do show a glimpse of everyday life as lived through the eyes of one who was there and can easily be assimilated into the Daggett Home:
Working in the garden: "I sowd parsnips and Carrot seed in the garden by the Barn."
Family health: "Mr. Ballard (Martha's husband) went to meeting. Dolly is unwell. Pukeing in the night."
Visiting with friends: "I went to see Mrs. Meloy. Find her Tolerable Comfortable. Old Lady Coutch there."
The hustling, bustling farm of the Daggetts
Chores and friendly visits: "My daughter Pollard and Mrs. Dingley here, helpt me do my work, washt my kitchen. I brewed also. Daughter Lambert came before I had finisht. She assistd me."
"I have been washing. Mr. Livemore, his wife and Cousin, & Mrs. Holdman took Tea. I feel more fatagued (fatigued) this Evening. I laid my Washing aside when my Company Came and finisht it after they went away Except rinsing."
Making extra money: "Mrs. Holdman here to have a gown made. Mrs. Benjamin to have a cloak cut." 
The book goes on to say that Martha and her daughters bleached newly spun thread on the grass and hung laundry on such fences as they had, though there were risks in such a practice: "Hannah washt Daniels Blankett & our swine tore it into strips."
Then there were problems with the neighbor's animals: "Mr. Livermore's swine in our field a number of times. I went my self & informed him."
Excellent examples of daily life in colonial times.
The War begins, and
the Daggetts heard the
news as it happened.
Isaiah may have also helped his mother and sisters with some of the chores around the house, but more than likely spent most of his time learning farming and other skills from his father. 
Like other families in the colonial times, the Daggetts used, sold, or traded items they made for those they needed.
An interesting fact about Samuel Daggett that I discovered is that he helped to defend the Colony of Connecticut during the Revolutionary War, and was apparently stationed in the State House in New London. In 1774, during a town meeting in Coventry, citizens agreed to a non- importation agreement.
Mr. Daggett also paid for someone named Jacob Fox to take his son Isaiah's place in military duty so that the young 17-year-old could stay home and tend the farm. Coventry sent 116 men to Lexington at the start of the war. The community also sent clothing and supplies to aid the war effort.

Below you will find our Daggetts as they were listed in the 1790 census - the first for the United States.
This first census began more than a year after the inauguration of President Washington and shortly before the second session of the first Congress ended. Congress assigned responsibility to collecting the data for the 1790 census to the marshals of the U.S. judicial districts.  The law required that every household be visited, that completed census schedules be posted in "two of the most public places within [each jurisdiction], there to remain for the inspection of all concerned..."
Here is an explanation for the data below:
1st column - Name of Head of Household
2nd column - Number of free white males 16 and older
3rd column - Number of free white males under 16
4th column - Number of all other free white persons
~The Daggetts in the 1790 census~
(Census day was August 2, 1790)
In studying the data here we can see that by this time both Isiah and Samuel were listed as heads of household, and can safely assume that son Isiah was married with a family and living in his own nearby home, for, besides himself he had five other "white males" living with him and two "other free white persons." I have not done research on Isiah but I will take an educated guess that this could be a wife, daughter, and five sons. If and when I decide to take it to the next level and research the Daggett family further, I will post my findings here.
Directly below Isiah's name we find Samuel (abbreviated to Sam'l - a very common abbreviation at that time) with only one "other free white persons," presumably his wife, Anna.
I will also suppose here that the daughters of Samuel and Anna (Tabitha and Asenath) are married and now live with their own husbands. Again, if and when I decide to pursue this, I will post my findings here.
 
The tombstone of Anna Daggett:
Birth: 1734
Death: Jan. 28, 1832
Inscription:
relict of Samuel; age 98
(From "Find A Grave")
The tombstone of Samuel Daggett:
Birth: 1723
Death: Aug. 24, 1798
Rev. War Veteran. Age 75
(From "Find A Grave")
Samuel died in 1798 at the age of 75. His wife, Anna, lived to the ripe old age of 98 and stayed in this house until her death in 1832.
In Samuel's will he mentions his cider mill situated near the home as well as his workshop. It's said that the original site location still has the remains of his extensive apple orchard. 



 





Daggett House plans:
click to enlarge

Now  little about the house itself:
The saltbox house (known as breakback-style during the 18th century) was a very popular architectural style in colonial Connecticut. This form gets its name from the similarity in shape to the small chests used for storing salt at that time. The most distinctive feature is the asymmetrical gable roof, which has a short roof plane in the front and a long roof plane in the rear, extending over a lean-to (see the various exterior photos). English settlers created this manner of engineering by adapting a medieval house form to meet the different needs and weather of northeast America. The design was perfect for the harsh New England climate.
How long the house you see in this posting remained in the Daggett family is unclear. By the time antiquarian Mary Dana Wells discovered and eventually purchased it in the early 1950s, the structure was referred to as the 'Jack Hunt House.' The old home was originally brought to Mrs. Wells' attention by a Mr. George Watson, an employee/architect of Old Sturbridge Village, located in Massachusetts. That open-air museum could not use a 1750 saltbox due to it not being appropriate to their 1790 to 1840 span of collections and turned it down.

The 1977/78 dismantling of the the 
Daggett House to bring to Greenfield Village.
You can make out the fireplace and the beehive 
(or bake) oven on the 1st floor, and the 
hall chamber fireplace on the 2nd floor.

And how it now looks inside
Greenfield Village 
When Mrs. Wells was told of the dwelling as it sat in Andover in 1951, she had it disassembled and moved 35 miles to Union, Connecticut, where she had much of the '19th century updates' removed in her own restoration project and, in doing so, found the original facade. It was this 18th century design that prompted Mrs. Wells to actually purchase the house for herself.  Once in its new location and restored, the structure served as Wells' home for the next 26 years, until she could no longer keep it in its pristine colonial condition.
It was then, in 1977, that Mrs. Wells decided to donate this wonderful representation of colonial New England America, complete with most of the colonial furnishings she collected, as well as an endowment fund to maintain it, to Greenfield Village. 
Restoration specialists Watson and Donald Graham watched carefully as the Greenfield Village crew painstakingly dismantled the house and diligently reconstructed the numbered pieces at the far-end of the Village. 
With continuous labor, it was ready for public viewing by the 1978 season. 
And now, with this wonderful New England addition in its new location situated near the other early American structures such as Plympton House, Giddings House, the Farris Windmill, and the English Cotswold Cottage and Forge, the colonial section of Greenfield Village was complete. 

Preparing wool for spinning
Employing living history, the docents who work inside Daggett are dressed in accurate period clothing of the mid-1700's, and they work the house seasonally as if they truly lived there 250 years ago. However, rather than present in a 1st person verbiage, such as Plimouth Plantation, the Daggett presenters remain in 3rd person while employing acts in a 1st person manner, and it's in this way they can verbally teach the visitor while showing the everyday life of our colonial ancestors. This includes the preparation and cooking over the hearth of daily meals, dyeing wool and spinning said wool into yarn by way of a great (or walking) spinning wheel, weaving, gardening, chopping wood, and more. And the knowledgeable historians who work inside this house are ready and willing to accept the patrons' many questions.

 Aside from its unusual shape, the first thing you may notice while visiting or in the photographs here is the single central chimney, allowing for a simple design of having a fireplace in each room on both floors. 
As you enter the front door you are greeted by a tight, steep winding staircase to access the upper rooms (or bed chambers) now used for storage. We will come back to this area momentarily.
If we turn left at the stairs we will enter the parlor, or "best" room. This was a more formal and private room reserved for the more formal entertaining of family, the preacher, and close friends. Due to the centrality of the chimney (as previously mentioned), it also has its own fireplace.
In this video clip, a Daggett presenter gives us a tour of the parlor:
   
And here we have a side view of this beautiful home showing the outside wall of the parlor.
Note the cut-a-way wall mentioned in the above clip.

 As this room is known as the parlor, I was somewhat surprised to find a bed there. But upon asking the "experts," I've come to learn that this 'press bed' would have been acceptable in this 'best room,' and would have been used when guests traveled through the area and had no other place to stay, or even for the mother who was in labor.
So, since there was a bed there and I was a bit tired, and I was kind of a guest...sort of...I thought I'd take a little nap. How was I supposed to know I wasn't allowed to do that?
Boy! Was I wrong!
Ha! Just kidding. It's just a little photo trickery.
I hope you all know me better than to think I would actually do this...but it sure does make for a fun picture, doesn't it?

Here is a photograph of the parlor from the window looking toward the kitchen. Ahhh...there's the fireplace to help keep us warm during the winter.

The parlor from the opposite end.

Looking into the parlor from the kitchen. Note the colonial shoes under the bed.

Now, let us go to the right of the stairs where we will enter the main room of the house - the "great hall."  Click the video clip to watch a short presentation about this room: 
The way this room is presented in the Daggett home is as an all-purpose area with a large fireplace where most of the cooking, eating, and chore presentations occur. However, originally, the great hall would not be too far removed from our modern-day living room. Whereas the formal parlor was reserved for the closest of friends, the great hall would have been the room where family and friends of all kinds would congregate for visits, where crafts and tasks such as quilting, spinning and weaving would occur, and, yes, even eating a meal could take place.
A corner of the great hall...

A slight shift to the right and we can see the front door behind the wood box.

And another slight shift to the right with the front door open

The great hall fireplace at night

...and the opposite corner of the great hall, looking toward the kitchen

And the fourth corner of the great hall - that's the kitchen entry to the left.

From the great hall we step into the kitchen. This elongated room in the Daggett home was built along the back wall under the lean-to, and, like the other main rooms, also includes a large fireplace. Besides a kitchen, this rear room could be divided up into a pantry, buttery, and sometimes an additional bedroom.
As presented in Greenfield Village, to the immediate right, is the buttery. The buttery was similar to our modern pantry (or larder), storing food and other provisions, wines & liquor, and utensils needed for cooking and eating.
In the buttery

To the left of the entrance way we see the kitchen itself.  
Anna Daggett in the kitchen
This is where most of the food is prepared by the presenters. In Anna Daggett's time, however, she would have also cooked over the kitchen hearth, but since this room is so elongated, it would be difficult to get very many visitors to comfortably witness colonial hearth cooking.   
At the kitchen hearth in the evening.
This is why, thankfully, all hearth cooking takes place in the fireplace located in the great hall where everyone can watch and learn, especially the little ones.
At the far end of the kitchen we see another small room separated by a doorway. This may have been an additional bedroom, though according to the floor plans, this little room is called the borning room. 
~The far end of the kitchen~
The "borning room" is through the doorway you see, and the parlor is to the left.
"Just what the heck is a 'borning room?" I asked myself. So I put the call out to my historical friends and it seems like this would be where a woman would give birth, though there is no proof that this actually was a 'borning' room.
I suspect it may have been Isiah's bedroom. 
The kitchen from the opposite end

Would you like to check out the upstairs of the Daggett house? You would? 
Well then this next grouping of photographs are for you - what you will see here are some rare images of the bed chambers on the 2nd floor.  Here is another short video clip explaining what you will see at the top of these stairs:
The general public is not allowed access to this part of the home for it is used mainly for storage, therefore the pictures are only glimpses. However, seeing past the boxes and other items, it is a fascinating look at the upper bedrooms of an 18th century saltbox house.
Up the stairs we go. The room we see directly in front of us is the parlor chamber, directly above the parlor.
A parlor chamber was considered the master bedroom and would keep the most elegant bedroom furniture. You'll notice, however, in the floor plan that the parlor chamber is smaller than the hall chamber. This is because, as mentioned in the video clip about the 1st floor parlor, when the house was being restored it was found to have irreparable rotting wood in that particular area and, therefore, the side wall had to be resized and rebuilt to smaller dimensions than the original.

At the top of the stairs and into the parlor chamber. Yes, that's me looking out the window.
Note the hand-hewn ceiling beams by Samuel Daggett himself above me.

Parlor Chamber - directly above the parlor - now used mainly for storage.

The parlor chamber fireplace - connected to the central chimney.
Bring on the winter - we have a fireplace!

The other large bedroom was called the Hall Chamber. This would have been for Samuel & Anna and maybe their children as infants.
The hall chamber (directly above the great hall).
Now used for storage, this could have been the room where Tabitha and Asenath slept. (Maybe the borning room off the kitchen could have been Isaiah's room?)
Anyhow, again we see more storage.
It's here where the furniture of Mrs. Wells is kept, numbered and wrapped. I was told it was specified by her that her furniture was to remain in the house as part of the deal. Since it was not all correct to the period in which Greenfield Village wanted to represent, they held up their end of the deal and kept the furniture inside the home, even though it's not displayed downstairs.

On the opposite side of the room in the hall chamber we see another fireplace meant for warming during winter nights. 

The hall that connects the two bed chambers - from the hall chamber to the parlor chamber. The stairs to go down to the first floor are along the orange barrier.

Heading back down the stairs
I would love to one day see Greenfield Village set the 2nd floor up in the way it might have been nearly 300 years ago and keep it for viewing on special occasions.
Maybe one day...

Let's take a step out the kitchen door and head to the magnificent garden behind the house. 
Heirloom plants are grown back here and used for cooking and presenting purposes. If you catch the presenters on a slower day, don't be afraid to ask for a tour of the garden, for this is where one can see the extent that Greenfield Village goes for that extra mile in its authenticity.
~The Daggett garden~
I do apologize for not having photos of the plants themselves. I will rectify that situation this coming season.

Gardening: springtime planting
Along with the more common vegetables and herbs known in our modern times, this garden is filled with such a variety of heirloom plants as such one never sees or hears about unless in a historic situation. 

Gardening: summer care
Besides the varieties of squash, beans, lettuce and other vegetables used to help sustain the family, Anna Daggett would have also grown plants for medical purposes as well, including wormwood, which was a purgative for stomach issues or worms, tansy was used to stop bleeding and bruising, and chamomile, which was used, same as it is today, to make a calming tea.
Gardening: fall harvest 
Bringing in the remaining necessities for food and health purposes.

 And for scenic purposes, here are a few winter pictures of the Daggett home:
As beautiful in the winter as any other season. Maybe even more so!

Asenath sweeps the snow from the porch

In a world all its own...the beauty of winter at Daggett

And there you have it, a visit to one of my very favorite - if not my actual favorite - houses inside Greenfield Village (gotta love Firestone Farm as well).
The Daggett homestead from a distance...a time long ago...
Just imagine...The Daggetts who lived in this house were once living human beings and not just characters in a book. They had feelings the same as we do: they felt happiness, sadness, anger, pain, concern, and contentment. They celebrated the coming of spring and of harvest time. They enjoyed church picnics and weddings, and certainly mourned when loved ones, whether friends or family, died. They spoke of their crops, the weather, told stories, and studied the Bible. Just imagine the discussions and probably even debates they had of the news of the day - how wonderful it would be to be able to hear conversations and opinions about Paul Revere's famous ride, of the Revolutionary War itself, their thoughts on the Declaration of Independence, the forming of the new nation with its own Constitution, and hearing of George Washington becoming our first president as it was happening!
Just imagine...I mean, if the Daggett house walls had ears, they most certainly would have heard at least some talk about these great events.
I can only imagine…
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Special thanks to Larissa and Beckie for their help in assisting me in finding answers to my many questions.
And, of course, the wonderful people at the Benson Ford Research Center.
 
~If you are interested in learning more about the different aspects of colonial life based around the Daggett House (and Giddings as well), please check out the following links (with loads of photographs):

In the Good Old Colony Days
A concise pictorial to everyday life in America's colonies  


Colonial Cooking: On the Hearth
A post dedicated solely to colonial-era kitchen and cooking - lots of pictures!


Travel and Taverns
To help you understand what it was like to travel and stay at a tavern in colonial times.  


Colonial Ken & Friends - 4th of July 2014: Celebrating Independence Day in a Colonial Way
For the first time, a few of us celebrated our Nation's birth as if it were 1776.

Colonial Christmas
A history of Christmas in America's colonial past. 


~And if you are interested in some of my other postings on the structures at Greenfield Village, check out these links:

Ackley Covered Bridge 1832
At one time, covered bridges were commonplace. Not so much anymore. But Greenfield Village has one from 1832.

Doc Howard's Office - The World of a 19th century Doctor
It's 1850 and your sick. Who are you going to call on? Why, good ol' Doc Howard, of course!

Eagle Tavern
Learn about the Eagle Tavern and 19th century travel

Eagle Tavern: Eating Historically 
Taste history while being immersed in the 1850s
 
Firestone Farm at Greenfield Village
Learn about the boyhood home of Harvey Firestone, the tire magnate.

Noah Webster House
A quick overview of the life of this fascinating Founding Father whose home, which was nearly razed for a parking lot, is now located in Greenfield Village.

Preserving History
Henry Ford did more for preserving everyday life of the 18th and 19th centuries than anyone else! Here's proof.

Tales of Everyday Life in Menlo Park (or Francis Jehl: A Young Boy's Experience Working at Menlo Park)
Menlo Park is brought to life by one who was there. First-hand accounts.

Richart Carriage Shop
This building was much more than a carriage shop in the 19th century!

And for some haunted fun, 
Ghosts of Greenfield Village
Yep - real hauntings take place in this historic Village.


"Opening a diary for the first time is like walking into a room full of strangers."
So writes Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, social historian and author of numerous books including  
A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard Based on Her Diary 1785 - 1812.
I love reading the journals and diaries written by those who lived so long ago. I have numerous of these books that can tell us more about lives once lived than any school history book can ever hope to. And if the reader researches the finer details of everyday activities of the period, as Ms. Ulrich has, a complete new world of the past can open up, allowing the reader to almost seemingly take part in the experiences of the written word.

Other books that I highly recommend to dig deeper into the everyday lives of our colonial ancestors:
Our Own Snug Fireside
Tidings From the 18th Century
Home Life in Colonial Days
There are plenty more than this - what I have is only something to get your feet wet.

Until next time, see you in time.

























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