Friday, February 3, 2017

Books: Researching the 18th Century

Do you want to know what makes me feel good? 
Knowing that I use a great many of the same sources for my blog postings and living history presentations that internationally known and respected historical museums such as Greenfield Village and Colonial Williamsburg use. 
That's what makes me feel good.  
I will also  (sometimes successfully) make the attempt to locate the source of the sources - does that make sense? - to get an even deeper understanding of a subject. And when it comes to my favorite period of the colonial era - roughly the last half of the 18th century - everyday life information can sometimes run scarce and sketchy.
Now, on the other hand, for the American Civil War, there have been thousands of books written. In fact, according to THIS source, there are over 65,000 books about the Civil War, and up to 50% of those are about Gettysburg alone! Needless to say, my Civil War library is quite large, with numerous volumes concentrating on the battles, though most of my collection deals more with life on the homefront. That's where my main interest of the 1860s lies.
But I do have an ever-growing colonial/RevWar library as well. The Revolutionary War era is a different ball of wax altogether. Books of this period tend to have a wider span, dating back to the French & Indian War of the 1750s or, in greater numbers, from the Stamp Act of 1765, which many agree was the strike that started the initial flicker of war, and going into the early growing pains of our Nation's founding.
Though there is plenty written about the Rev War itself, as well as of many of the individual founding fathers (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Hamilton, etc), finding books about everyday life during the 18th century can prove to be much more difficult.
Interestingly, I discovered that many of the "War" books written do intertwine home life and soldier life, most likely because it wasn't just a "man's war," nor was it only fought in one general area.
As difficult as it may be, however, if one searches hard enough, these gems of gold books on colonial homelife can be found.
Here are a few of the books mentioned 
here that I have in my collection.
I use these and others quite extensively
in my research.
What I attempted to put together here is a somewhat decent-sized listing of books that I have in my personal collection and use quite often in my research to not only help me in writing the information in this Passion for the Past blog, but to guide me in my reenacting and presentations as well.
I consider these the best books available to guide one in recreating the colonial past.
What you see here is not even close to all the books I have in my personal library, but what I chose to include I did for a number of reasons, with first and foremost being the information given about everyday life. The other is readability; I prefer to keep the writing on a lighter scale. I mean, unless you are interested in the deep details of any one particular subject, many "heavy" books can be extremely boring.
Finally, I tried, for the most part, to list books that don't have some sort of an agenda: when researching history, the last thing I want to do is read of someone's revisionist-biased opinions presented as fact. So I attempted to stay away from that as much as I could (though there are always opinions that sneak in).
By the way, the greater majority of the reviews beneath each book were copied and pasted directly from Some, however, are my own. And others may be a mixture.
So, for your reading and research pleasure, I give you a listing  - with links! - of some of my very favorite books: 
Our Own Sung Fireside 1760 to 1860 by Jane C. Nylander
Perhaps my favorite of all my "go to" books, the author herein explains in great detail (by way of primary sources) everyday life during the years cited, but stays heavily in the late 18th and early 19th century. The author uses first person illustrations by way of historic documents such as journals, diaries, letters, and estate papers to describe life as lived in the average home of the period.
One of the very best "everyday life" books out there.

As Various As Their Land by Stephanie Wolf
The outstanding characteristic of 18th-century life in America was the diversity of individual experiences, observes Wolf, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. Quoting from letters, diaries and other records detailing the daily lives of both men and women, Wolf traces changes in areas of life from child rearing to technology. The beginnings of consumerism and the emergence of new communities are also documented.
Tidings From the 18th Century by Beth Gilgun
Beth Gilgun brings the mid to late 1700s to life with her entertaining and informative "letters to a friend" on the frontier. This is great for reenactors, teachers, and historic interpreters. As an accomplished seamstress and goodwife, Gilgun shares with her "friend" information on clothing for men, women and children, as well as other topics of daily life in Colonial America. Included are clear, concise instructions for constructing reproduction 18th century garments, from choosing fabric to finishing. Her chatty letters include news about current events, dyeing wool, money in the colonies, tobacco, and the latest goods available on the East Coast.

Wenches, Wives, and Servant Girls by Don Hagist
In an age when people of all races could be owned by others, newspaper advertisements provided detailed descriptions of those who absconded. These verbal images are often the only surviving information on countless thousands of common, working class people. The advertisements presented here describe females (and a few males) who were advertised in America during the era of the Revolutionary War, presenting a striking picture of the wenches, wives, and servant girls who formed a substantial but largely forgotten segment of the population in colonial America.
What Clothes Reveal by Linda Baumgarten
Drawing on contemporary written descriptions and on actual costumes of the period, this book analyzes what Americans in the 18th century considered fashionable and attractive and how they used clothing to assert status or to identify occupations.
Eighteenth Century English as a Second Language by Cathleene Hellier
Most of us have no problem reading novels, plays, diaries, or newspapers from the eighteenth century. But speaking eighteenth-century English can be trickier. This series of lessons has been designed to help historical interpreters and re-enactors better understand the language of the period and sound more like the persons they portray. Lessons contain grammar, vocabulary, and conversational etiquette for all levels of society. 

The American Family in the Colonial Period by Arthur W. Calhoun
First published in the early 20th century, this book contributed significantly to an understanding of the forces at work in the evolution of family institutions in the United States. The text describes the American family as a product primarily of European folkways, economic transition to modern capitalism, and its distinctive environment — a virgin continent. Exhaustive in its use of primary and secondary sources, The American Family in the Colonial Period will be invaluable to students of early American history and of interest to all who enjoy reading about America's past and its early settlers.
Home Life in Colonial Days by Alice Morse Earle
Though first published over a hundred years ago, "Home Life in Colonial Days" is filled with usefulness and vitality. In her wonderfully readable narrative, Alice Morse Earle provides a fascinating description of everyday life --- the chores, the tools, the dwelling places, the foods, the sights and sounds --- that Colonial Americans knew. Though not a history of Colonial America, "Home Life in Colonial Days" contains many interesting tidbits about our country's earliest days. It also provides an excellent description of everyday life in America, with special emphasis on New England and Virginia during the 1600-1800's. As such, "Home Life in Colonial Days" would be useful not just to historians and antique collectors, but to writers, museum curators, and anyone who wants to understand Colonial America.

The Colonial Tavern by Edward Field
The material that has been used to produce these reflections from the Colonial tavern has been gleaned from many sources. The various New England town histories and newspapers have disclosed many a curious item; old diaries, letters, account books and other writings have been studiously examined and their quaint entries liberally made use of; while state, town and court records have brought to light many forgotten episodes that have gone far to make up this picture of one side of the life in New England during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Stage-Coach and Tavern Days by Alice Morse Earle
Covering travel, food, sleeping, and all other angles of tavern life during colonial times, Earle utilizes the primary sources available to her when written over a hundred years ago.

Taverns of the American Revolution by Adrian Covert
Taverns of the American Revolution  is the first visual and narrative account of the American Revolution told through tales about the Colonial-era inns, taverns, and alcoholic beverages that shaped it. It is equal parts history, trivia, coffee-table book, and travel guide and reveals the crucial role these public houses played as meeting places for George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and their fellow Founding Fathers in the struggle for independence.
From history buffs and those interested in colonial architecture and art to tavern goers, beer aficionados, trivia lovers, and those keen on hitting a few historic pubs on their road trip through the original thirteen colonies, this one-of-a-kind compendium is the ultimate guide to the taverns that helped spark a revolution.

The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy by Hannah Glasse 
This book, a facsimile from 1776, is a must-have for collectors of antiquarian cookbooks.
To appreciate what Hannah Glasse's work did for cooking, it's necessary to understand what place it had in the market of the 18th century -- it was the book for English-speaking cooks, even in Revolutionary times as popular in the Colonies as it was back home in England. It's a bit more in scope than a typical modern cookbook as well, including things like beer/wine/mead recipes and preserves that are usually in separate books today, and even an occasional home remedy. The recipes cover much classic British Isles cooking, including Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding, meat pies, Scotch Broth, and a good number of seafood recipes.
The recipes in question don't lend themselves much to modern kitchens, unless you've got a fireplace with pothooks and a beehive oven in the chimney. But it's still enough to make you imagine, and to realize that while the techniques have changed, food hasn't changed much in two hundred years and change. 

Now, to understand the above cookbook, might I strongly suggest A Book of Cookery by a Lady?
Authoress Kimberly Walters spent countless hours honing her skills of period cooking by actually practicing the art of open-hearth cooking first hand, and has also learned, over time, how to apply not only modern measurements and decipher 250 year old directions/instructions, but to also use modern ingredients to allow today's cook access to items a bit more easily accessible in our modern day to replace those that may not be available any longer (or pretty hard to get). 
And that is what makes "A Book of Cookery" worth your hard-earned money.
To add to this Ms. Walters includes quite a bit of historical information, also taken from original cookbooks, to allow the reader a better understanding of the process of kitchen and even home life of the colonial period. 
Perhaps my favorite part of this book is the chapter on what was seasonally available by month for such foodstuffs as meat, fish, poultry, fowl, and vegetables.

A must have for 18th century cooks!

The success of the new settlements in what is now the United States depended on food. This book tells about the bounty that was here and how Europeans forged a society and culture, beginning with help from the Indians and eventually incorporating influences from African slaves. They developed regional food habits with the food they brought with them, what they found here, and what they traded for all around the globe. Their daily life is illuminated through descriptions of the typical meals, holidays, and special occasions, as well as their kitchens, cooking utensils, and cooking methods over an open hearth. Readers will also learn how they kept healthy and how their food choices reflected their spiritual beliefs.

Colonial: Design in the New World by David Larkin
Colonial Design explores the development of domestic design in early America by showing examples of authentic colonial architecture, interiors, and furniture. More than 200 color photos taken throughout the original 13 colonies capture the look and feel of colonial life.

Colonial Living by Edwin Tunis
Colonial Living is a vigorous re-creation of 17th- and 18th-century America―of the everyday living of those sturdy men and women who carved a way of life out of the wilderness. In lively text and accurate drawings we see the dugouts and wigwams of New England's first settlers and the houses they learned to build against the cruel winters; the snug Dutch and Flemish farmhouses of New Amsterdam; the homes of the early planters in the South which would one day be kitchens for the houses they dreamed of building when tobacco had made them rich.
Long research and love for his subject gave Tunis an intimate knowledge of the details of daily living in colonial times. He shares all with his reader―the building of houses, with their trunnels, girts, and hand-hewn beams, the spinning of yarn and its weaving and dyeing, the making of candles and soap, and the intricate business of cooking on the open hearth with lug poles, cranes, bake kettles, and spits. He describes the early crops, and pictures the implements and animals used to produce them; in detailed pictures we see again the tools and products of the craftsmen―the blacksmith, the cooper, the miller, the joiner, and the silversmith.
Edwin Tunis has brought the significant past to life with consummate skill. Rich in enjoyment, rich in information, with more than 200 drawings, his book is a warm, lively, and authentic panorama of a lost way of life.

Everyday Life in Early America by David Freeman Hawke
In this clearly written volume, Hawke provides enlightening and colorful descriptions of early Colonial Americans and debunks many widely held assumptions about 17th century settlers. He argues that most pioneers were not young and that their families weren't much larger than present-day households. In addition, he states that adults lived longer than has been believed and that most early settlers were artisans and craftsmen with little knowledge of farming, although the wilderness soon forced them to adapt. Hawke includes entertaining discussions of what the first white Americans ate (for example, raccoon was served in New York). He also discusses how colonial Americans were punished for crimes and how they treated enslaved blacks and indentured servants.
Everyday Artifacts in America by Anthony Tafel
Over 280 crisp color photos reveal artifacts of early American everyday life that were useful for surveying land, building log homes, farming the land, traveling, blacksmithing, and cabinetmaking. From light paper ephemera such as land surveys and playing cards to heavy garden stones and Conestoga wagon components, they are pictured and explained. This book is ideal for all those with a passion for history or a curiosity about objects used in America in the mid-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

A Day in a Colonial Home by Della R. Prescott
Written in 1922, this book address the problems that parents then and today both share--how do you make history interesting for children? The Newark Museum decided to create a living history center where children could see history in action; out of this endeavor came A Day in a Colonial Home. Its simple story  - a day in the life - elaborates upon a normal colonial family's life and the accurately-portrayed goings on within it. Items children might be unfamiliar with have pen illustrations, photographs and review notes in the back to help them gain a better understanding of what a Colonial family owned and operated.
Yes, written for the younger set, but it's a valuable source for adults as well. Remember: books for school-aged kids written a hundred years ago are quite different than those written for the same age-group today. 

A few more of the titles listed here.
The American Revolution: A Mirror of  a People by William Peirce Randel
Until about 1900, history as it was found in books pretty much ignored the ordinary facts about life in the past. Wars and politics and Great Men got most of the attention.
The intention of this book is to offer a sampling, in text and graphics, of what life was like in America for common folk in the period that produced the Declaration and established our Independence.
Paul Revere’s Ride by David Hackett Fischer
The 18th century comes to life!
Paul Revere's midnight ride looms as an almost mythical event in American history--yet it has been largely ignored by scholars and left to patriotic writers and debunkers. Now one of the foremost American historians offers the first serious look at the events of the night of April 18, 1775--what led up to it, what really happened, and what followed--uncovering a truth far more remarkable than the myths of tradition.
The reader will get a real feel of the times - a favorite.
Founding Fathers by K. M. Kostyal
Kostyal tells the story of the great American heroes who created the Declaration of Independence, fought the American Revolution, shaped the US Constitution--and changed the world. The era's dramatic events, from the riotous streets in Boston to the unlikely victory at Saratoga, are punctuated with lavishly illustrated biographies of the key founders--Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Ben Franklin, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and James Madison--who shaped the very idea of America. An introduction and ten expertly-rendered National Geographic maps round out this ideal gift for history buff and student alike. Filled with beautiful illustrations, maps, and inspired accounts from the men and women who made America, Founding Fathers brings the birth of the new nation to light. 
This book is more than just a book about the's also about the times as well that has a more well-rounded history than most of this sort.

Reporting the Revolutionary War by Todd Andrlik
For the colonists of the new world, the years of the American Revolution were a time of upheaval and rebellion. History boils it down to a few key events and has embodied it with a handful of legendary personalities. But the reality of the time was that everyday people witnessed thousands of little moments blaze into an epic conflict-for more than twenty years. Now, for the first time, experience the sparks of revolution the way the colonists did—in their very own town newspapers and broadsheets. Reporting the Revolutionary War is a stunning collection of primary sources, sprinkled with modern analysis from 37 historians. Featuring Patriot and Loyalist eyewitness accounts from newspapers printed on both sides of the Atlantic, readers will experience the revolution as it happened with the same immediacy and uncertainty of the colonists.

United States Experience by Gerry and Janet Souter
This is more than a history book - - it's a museum in a book and includes replica documents of such historic items as The Quartering Act of 1774 where British Officers were allowed to quarter their troops inside private homes, an oath of allegiance for the Continental soldier to sign, a few pages from the 1775 diary of Joseph Plumb Martin, a full copy of the Declaration of Independence, colonial paper money, notes from James Madison on the content of the Bill of Rights, and a copy of the Louisiana Purchase, among so many other historic replicas of our American History.

Revolutionary Mothers by Carol Berkin
Historian Carol Berkin offers a lively account of women's various roles in the long, bloody conflict of the Rev War. Early forms of resistance included boycotting British cloth and tea as women used "their purchasing power as a political weapon." As the conflict became a war in city streets and the neighboring countryside, houses became war zones; ordinary women often served as spies, saboteurs and couriers. Camp followers (often soldiers' wives) provided logistical support (cooking, washing, sewing, nursing, finding supplies) and occasionally even fought; prostitutes kept up soldiers' sexual (and social) morale. Generals' wives, "admired while the ordinary camp followers were often scorned," accompanied their husbands in different style; they boosted morale with dinner parties and dancing. Berkin reaches out to chart the experiences of Loyalist women, Native American women, and African-American women. First-person accounts lend immediacy and freshness to a lucidly written, well-researched account that is neither a romantic version of "a quaint and harmless war" nor "an effort to stand traditional history on its head."

Faiths of our Fathers: What America's Founders Really Believed by Alf Mapp Jr.
In The Faiths of Our Fathers, widely acclaimed historian Alf Mapp, Jr. cuts through the historical uncertainty to accurately portray the religious beliefs (and, at times, periods of non-beliefs) of 11 of America's founding fathers, including John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison.
In my opinion, it is a very well researched and balanced account of some of the most famous and popular of the founding generation.
Revolutionary Medicine: The Founding Fathers & Mother in Sickness and in Health by Jeanne E. Abrams
Before the advent of modern antibiotics, one’s life could be abruptly shattered by contagion and death, and debility from infectious diseases and epidemics was commonplace for early Americans, regardless of social status. Concerns over health affected the founding fathers and their families as it did slaves, merchants, immigrants, and everyone else in North America. As both victims of illness and national leaders, the Founders occupied a unique position regarding the development of public health in America. Revolutionary Medicine refocuses the study of the lives of George and Martha Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John and Abigail Adams, and James and Dolley Madison away from the usual lens of politics to the unique perspective of sickness, health, and medicine in their era.
Journal of the American Revolution 2014 by various authors
In a remarkably presented collection of remastered articles and never-before-published essays, this collectors print edition of the popular webzine, Journal of the American Revolution (, attempts to answer several lingering questions about the most important era in American history: What was the true start of the American Revolution? Who came up with no taxation without representation ? What role did dogs play in the war? How did the Sons of Liberty influence the rebellion? How did news about America s independence go viral in 1776? How did Washington s army actually cross the Delaware River? At what moment did Washington become a politician as well as a general? How did Washington's mastery of intelligence lead to one of the most daring attacks of the war? What is the treatment for a scalped head or arrow wound? Was the most hated Loyalist in America really a Patriot spy? And what about those British soldiers?
Spanning 248 full-color pages, all 50+ articles are accompanied by high definition images portraits, maps, photos, and more including some in print for the first time ever. Todd Andrlik, Hugh T. Harrington, Don N. Hagist and several historians and experts guide readers through various topics with passionate, creative and smart historical study. Journal of the American Revolution delivers impressive substance, depth and breadth as it strives to become the leading source of information about the American Revolution and Founding period.

The Journal of the American Revolution has provided educational, peer-reviewed articles by more than 75 historians and experts on the journal's popular website, The site attracts more than 65,000 readers per month and its historical perspectives have been featured by Time, Smithsonian, Slate and other national media. The online periodical's roster of writers includes a balance of emerging talent and seasoned scholars, such as J. L. Bell, Benjamin L. Carp, Thomas Fleming, Benjamin H. Irvin, Andrew O'Shaughnessy, Jim Piecuch and Ray Raphael. The Journal of the American Revolution, Annual Volume 2015, marks the beginning of a partnership between Westholme and the journal to provide an annual print edition of the journal's best historical research and writing. These annual volumes are designed for institutions, scholars, and enthusiasts alike to provide a convenient overview of the latest research and scholarship in American Revolution studies. The fifty articles in the 2015 edition include: "Five Myths of Tarring and Feathering," by J. L. Bell; "Raid Across the Ice: The British Operation to Capture Washington," by Benjamin Huggins; "Paul Revere's Other Riders," by Ray Raphael; "A Patriot-Loyalist: Playing Both Sides," by Todd Braisted; "William Lee & Oney Judge: A Look at George Washington & Slavery," by Mary V. Thompson; "The Great West Point Chain," by Hugh T. Harrington. 

~The following are must have diaries, journals, letters, and other intimate sources:

A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard Based on Her Diary by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
This book is a model of social history at its best. An exegesis of Ballard's diary, it recounts the life and times of this obscure Maine housewife and midwife. Using passages from the diary as a starting point for each chapter division, Ulrich, a professor at the University of New Hampshire, demonstrates how the seemingly trivial details of Ballard's daily life reflect and relate to prominent themes in the history of the early republic: the role of women in the economic life of the community, the nature of marriage and sexual relations, the scope of medical knowledge and practice. Speculating on why Ballard kept the diary as well as why her family saved it, Ulrich highlights the document's usefulness for historians.
By the way, I cannot recommend the companion video highly enough. This brings the era to life like little else I have ever seen: A Midwife's Tale docu-drama
Diary of Mary Cooper: 1768-1773 - 
Each form of historical evidence contributes to the whole of our knowledge of a past culture. The private diary, intended only for the writer's eyes, reveals personal thoughts and feelings in a way that other historical records may not. And it is in this way that we can see a time through the eyes of one who was there like no other scholarly history book can show.
This is a window to the past. 

The Journal of Madame Knight 1704
This scarce antiquarian book is a facsimile reprint of the culturally important original. is the diary kept in 1704 by Sarah Kemble Knight while on her hazardous journey from Boston to New York and back on horseback. It is filled with witty comments on the manner of the people she encountered, as well as the geography of early New England.
Diary of Anna Green Winslow 1771 - 
A rare view of colonial life from a bright and sensitive 12 year old girl from Nova Scotia, who was sent to Boston in 1770 by her parents to be educated in Boston schools. The diary was not published until 1894 when it was issued with notes and an introduction by Alice Morse Earle.
My Dearest Friend: The Letters of John and Abigail Adams -  
In 1762, John Adams penned a flirtatious note to "Miss Adorable," the 17-year-old Abigail Smith. In 1801, Abigail wrote to wish her husband John a safe journey as he headed home to Quincy after serving as president of the nation he helped create. The letters that span these nearly forty years form the most significant correspondence--and reveal one of the most intriguing and inspiring partnerships--in American history.
As a pivotal player in the American Revolution and the early republic, John had a front-row seat at critical moments in the creation of the United States, from the drafting of the Declaration of Independence to negotiating peace with Great Britain to serving as the first vice president and second president under the U.S. Constitution. Separated more often than they were together during this founding era, John and Abigail shared their lives through letters that each addressed to "My Dearest Friend," debating ideas and commenting on current events while attending to the concerns of raising their children (including a future president).
Full of keen observations and articulate commentary on world events, these letters are also remarkably intimate. This new collection--including some letters never before published--invites readers to experience the founding of a nation and the partnership of two strong individuals, in their own words. This is history at its most authentic and most engaging.
And to see John and Abigail come to life, check out this spectacular mini-series John Adams. This is my all-time favorite movie.

~ ~ ~

Everyone has their own particular tastes and style when it comes to their favorite history books. Those listed in today's post happen to be the ones I turn to and enjoy most. I have found them to be a wealth of information and each cover the different aspects of the daily lives and activities of the founding generation. It's in these books that I gain the insight that allows me to, in a sense, place myself in their time while visiting historic locations, reenact, doing genealogy, or settling down on a living room chair beneath a reading lamp. They are, in my opinion, of the "can't put this down" variety, for the authors are historians that write for the every man, and they write in a style that grabs the reader and pulls them into the world of the past.
That being said, I hope this list has helped you in your researching adventures.

Until next time, see you in time.

By the way, if you would like to see the listing (with reviews and links) to my favorite history-based movies, click here--->American History from the Movies




1 comment:

An Historical Lady said...

It was fun to see the book, 'Tidings From the 18th Century' by Beth Gilgun. Here is something that shows what a small world this is! Beth and Chris Gilgun used to own and live in our 18thc. New Hampshire house! This was back in the early 70's. We did not know them, and they moved to Massachusetts after only a few years. It was in the 80's I believe, that Beth wrote the book. In another weird twist of fate, someone gave me the book years later, after I moved to NH, not knowing that they had once lived in my house! I still have it. The house was the pits when I bought it in 1998, and I have spent the last 18 years restoring it! Of course we had heard of the Gilguns after I moved here because of our involvement in colonial reenactment. Chris Gilgun made period style muskets. Maybe he still does, I don't know. They are not together anymore, and I don't know if they are still involved in reenacting or not as I never met them personally.