Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Purposely Farby During a "Pandemic": Having a Bit o' Fun in Spring 2020


Hey!  Why are you dressed like that?
Steppin'  in a time zone...
I asked and many answered.  Not nearly as many as I thought or had hoped,  but,  well,  Facebook prevented me from asking too many at once.  But those who responded told me they had fun doing it,  which is what I was hoping for!
And it shows in the photos in today's post.
You see,  with the coronavirus/covid-19 keeping everyone quarantined for who knows how long,  I came up with a fun attempt to help alleviate some of the anxiety for those of us who reenact.
I put the call out to a few friends to dress in their period clothing - whichever era is to their liking - and to photograph themselves in a sort of paradox:  period person in the modern world.  And the response was pretty good.
Now,  most have pretty bad snarky commentary,  courtesy of yours truly.  In other words,  some are historical,  snarky,  and/or historically snarky.
But I'm no comedian,  so take it as it is - - and,  if you'd like,  add your own snarky comments!  I mean,  it's all about the fun, right?  So with that being said,  I think you will enjoy this somewhat unusual post:

First up we'll begin with something a little serious,  for we have Rae Bucher,  who happens to be wearing a  "circa 1765-70 Robe à la Française in silk.  The finishing done by hand."
In 2018,  she wore the dress to the Fêtes Galantes costume ball held at the Palace of Versailles.
Rae also attempted to style the wig,  while the necklace she is wearing was made by Lauren Roosien.
"Hmmm...I wonder if they will dance the 'Nae Nae'
at the Palace of Versailles.  Lord help me if they do, 
for I do not know that step.
Maybe Youtube can help!"

Next up I see Beth Beley and Felicia Bevard - -
There's nothing like a pizza made of hardtack 
covered in sauce from a Civil War-era Target store.

Hey,  Kevin Amos---watch where you're pointing that thing!
Kevin is in the Civil War Union artillery and is seen here taking 
part in the Canon demonstration.

It looks like Vickie St. John's horse was in need of feed.
You know...even horses had to stop for feed.
Why not horseless carriages, too?

Ian Kushnir shows he's not chicken - - - 
The colonel of his regiment said he had a new
finger-lickin'-good  chicken recipe to try.
Ian licks his fingers every time he eats,  
whether it's chicken,  hog-jowls,  or mashed potatoes!

Cyndi White Carlson proves a point!
I've heard people were much smaller in the old days - 
I suppose this proves it!

Ah,  here we have Heather Bradley - - -
Miniskirt? 
No...
Cut-a-way blazer?
Nope.
A midi-dress?
uh uh.
Oh!  Here's what I'm looking for!
Petticoats,  short gowns,  and bedgowns!

E.J. Mailley does his chores.
"Go on,"  she said,  "It's the way they used to cut grass in the old 
days,"  she said,  "Tony will really think you're authentic!"
Harumph!

Jennifer Mailley does her chores.
“They wash here the whitest that ever I seed for they first Boyle all the Cloaths with soap,  and then wash them,  and I may put on clean linen every day if I please.”
Yup - - that's just what she did!

Hey Joey - - after the battle,  you need to help your wife!
It was not very long ago that men were still charging the 
battlefields and attacking their enemies on horseback.  But one 
piece of battlefield technology that doesn’t get nearly enough 
credit is the motorcycle.  From facilitating mobile musket fire at 
Bunker Hill to enabling recon missions at the Battle of 
Trenton,  our trusty two-wheeled steeds have helped us get the 
job done,  time and time again.

Amanda Fackler,  Joey's wife,  is not too happy:
A scullery maid!  That's what I feel like!
I don't care that I don't have to haul buckets of water 

from the river any more,  I still feel like a scullery maid!
Two-wheeled steed indeed!

My son,  Robbie Giorlando,  looks at his Victrola music collection...
Hmmm...a musical about John Hamilton?
Why in the heck John Hamilton?
He thinks he's so special - - 
Oh!  Just wait til Adams,  Jefferson,  and 
especially Burr hear about this!  
They will not be happy - - !

Meanwhile,  in Heather's world...
If they'da had it,  they'da used it!
I have it and I'm using it!

And they will rave about my fine stitching
and no one will be the wiser...heh heh heh!

Carrie Kushnir  (aka Agnes the servant)  is not too keen on her cheese snacks:
It certainly does not  taste like real
cheese to me as it says on the box!  
I've not tasted cheese like this before.
Looks like I will have to make my own
.  
Ian!  Get me my churn!
100% cheese indeed!

Rae Bucher prepares for her night at the Palace of Versailles--------
I do it all:  I sew,  I stitch,  and I do my own ironing,  too!
But the only time I ever enjoyed ironing 
was the day I accidentally  got gin in the steam iron.
Oh my!

Now we see Larissa Fleishman - - -
Oh!  Hi,  Beckie...What's that?  You want to hang out?  
Well,  I don't know.  We've been pretty busy at the farm.  
Doing what,  you ask?
Well...
Hitchin' up the buggy,  churnin' lots of butter
Raised a barn on Monday,  soon we'll raise anutter
At 4:30 in the morning I'm milkin' cows
Zane feeds the chickens and Mike plows
And I've been milkin' and plowin' so long
that even little Titus thinks that my mind is gone

Gonna have a period party!
We living historians only have period food and drink: 
Coca Cola is from 1886 - close enough!
Pizza has been around for a thousand years,  so we are way good with that!
And our bottled water comes from a spring.
So,  what's the problem?

Sue Hansen learns a new way to  'make'  clothes:
I need to sew a new dress,  and then I need to make a new day cap,  and then I need to spin wool so I can knit new stockings, and then I----hey!  American Duchess has gift certificates!

Susan Hansen is also a farmer's daughter:
"This big-wheeled load ain't goin' any faster.  
So just smile and wave and tip your hat to the 
18th century lady up on the tractor."

Yes,  yes,  I know  they're British!  And I
know  they invaded America in the 1960s.

But they're the Beatles!

No,  no,  no!  I did not shout,  "The British are coming!" 
This google thing has it all wrong!

Jennifer Mitchell mistakens the fridge for a cold cellar~
Let's see...no roast mutton,  no stewed liver,  
no frizzled beef or oyster pie...  
But I do see ham on rye and 
maybe pork and beans.
Oh!  TV dinners!

My wife,  Patty,  and Beckie Goodenow...they're just cool.
We can do it....in any century! 
Because we're just coooool....

And yet,  another one of  Beckie,  this time striking the Fonzie pose:
Straight from the tin kitchen to my table!
And I got my water directly from a spring - - 

it says so right on the bottle!

Here's my son again - - -
Tell the 1st Pennsylvania they'll have to wait
until I'm finished with Assassin's Creed!

And my Coke.  
Both are the real thing.

Beth Beley goes out to get supper = = = =
I'm not sure what kinda bird that is,  but I'll load my shotgun with rock salt and bacon rind and season his hind quarters for him.

And finally,  Karen Gillett  (and myself)  in a different sort of pose /\__/\
One would think by looking at us that we would be a couple 
of pot heads.  
But looks can be deceiving...

And we can end with this bit from The Onion:

Nation’s Historians Warn The Past Is Expanding At Alarming Rate
WASHINGTON—Painting a stark portrait of a phenomenon that appears to be irreversible,  a report published Thursday by the American Historical Association has found that the past is currently expanding at an alarming rate.
The comprehensive 950-page study, compiled by a panel of the nation’s most prominent historians,  warns that the sum total of past time grows progressively larger each day,  making it unlikely anything can be done to halt,  or even slow down, the relentless trend.
“We believe the past is larger now than it’s ever been before,”  said College of William and Mary professor Timothy Gibbon,  lead author of the report,  observing that whole generations of people have already become a part of history,  and that if nothing changes,  an untold number more can expect the same fate.  “Many things that are in the past today were, during our parents’  and grandparents’  time,  still in the present—or even the future.  Based on precise measurements of its size,  we believe the past has subsumed every single person and event that has ever existed.”
“It’s shocking to contemplate,  but in the relatively short stretch since 1984,  when I first began tracking its growth,  the past has expanded by more than 30 years,”  he added.

(To read the entire  "article,"  click HERE)

.............................................

Being in a lock-down quarantine can make one a little nutty,  you know?  And not having any historical places to go or reenactments to attend only adds to my insanity.
And,  no,  I am not quitting my day job to become a comedian  (though I must admit,  there were a couple here I really laughed at---though it was way past my bedtime when I wrote  'em)~
Anyhow,  if I was able to get you to even possibly crack a corner of your mouth into almost a smile,  then that is good enough for me.
If not,  well,  thank you for checking in anyhow.

Until next time,  see you in time...

(They're coming to take me away ha-haaa...)






























~   ~   ~

Friday, April 10, 2020

Springtime in the 18th Century: A Celebration of the Season of Rebirth in America's Past

Researching the past is nearly as much of a joy as reenacting it.  As I delve into my books,  searching for signs of a colonial spring,  I find myself immersed in another time and place,  embracing and learning their ways - ways that may not be familiar to our modern selves.  As was written a few years ago:
"The past is a foreign place,  and  (what we write)  of the past depends upon thousands of choices about the physical,  behavioral,  and cultural details of the period and place being presented.  Being authentic or truthful about the past involves much more than getting the  (period clothing)  and the architectural details right."
Truer words are rarely spoken,  and I do my best to make sure I get the details as correct as I can.  And if I am uncertain about anything,  I will make a note so the reader will understand that there may be something uncertain about the information.
Now,  the 18th century covers one hundred years,  and a lot of changes can occur in that time.
But,  I am not covering the entire 18th century here - only roughly the last half.
Just in case you were wondering.
By the way,  there will be overlap of this posting to the Victorian spring post I wrote a number of years ago.  Some things change more slowly than others...

"Let us not forget that the cultivation of the earth is the most important labor of man.  When tillage begins,  other arts will follow.  The farmers,  therefore,  are the founders of civilization."
~ Daniel Webster

..........................................................


Springtime truly is the season of rebirth,  and thoughts for the majority of the populace in 18th century America was the need to accomplish a successful growing season.  Spring in those long ago days was considered a time for preparing for the rest of the year;  a time for a new beginning.  A time for leaving the winter darkness and cold behind to look toward sunny warmth and renewal...rebirth.  It would set the pace for the rest of the year.

Spring is here...
God called men and women to perform particular tasks or work in this life:  women were invariably called to be housewives and mothers,  and men were called to specific work as farmers,  carpenters,  store owners,  coopers,  and so on.  This was the colonial thought process.  And it continued well into most of the 20th century for many Americans,  and even still continues as such to this day in many distant lands.
Though I cover both the traditional male and female spring chores in this posting,  I thought I'd begin with the women - ladies first,  you know:
Now,  I have searched high and low,  combing the pages of my books,  asking my historian friends,  and searching the internet to see if the ever-popular  "spring cleaning"  ritual we have known so well since the early 19th century was also a tradition in the 18th century.
And do you know what?
Though it may not had been called  "spring cleaning"  at the time,  all of my research material tends to agree there was most likely a  "turning out of the winter dirt"  when warmer weather finally hit after months of winter;  an annual ritual as we know it to be,  if only by action and not by name.  The constant fires for cooking and warmth combined with long hours of candlelight deposited ashes,  smoke,  and soot on nearly every surface...the kitchen and great halls have been the center of activity for months,  and the remnants of spinning,  sewing,  whittling,  cooking,  and other wintertime activities are in desperate need to be cleared away.  Colonial houses were inadequately swept,  certainly by today's standards,  for there were no brooms made of broomcorn yet.
Knowing that sweeping floors is a primary function of cleaning,  we must remember it wasn't always thought of in that manner:
Brooms of Colonial Williamsburg
Picture courtesy of  LeeAnn Ewer
"American brooms were hand made prior to 1797.  They were an unrefined round broom made from fibrous materials such as grass,   straw or hay,  fine twigs or corn husks.  The broom sweep was tied onto a tree branch for a handle.   Cordage used to tie the broom was retted from hemp and flax.  Rougher fibers were used to make the cordage that tied a broom.  The refined fibers were used for linens.
Cooking at the time was often done in a large open fireplace and dust and ashes were a factor of life.  Wood was carried inside the home for heat and cooking.  Dust,  debri and ash were always left behind from this chore.  The home made brooms swept as clean as could be the cabin and hearth and kept the home a more pleasant place to be.
The unrefined brooms were inferior and fell apart easily.  Their crude nature did not allow them to sweep well.  Changes started to come about in the form of a farmer from Massachusetts in 1797.  Levi Dickenson used the tassels from his harvested sorghum to make a broom.  His sorghum broom swept better than previous materials used,  but the broom still fell apart after a time of use."
     Now,  to give wooden floors a deeper cleaning,  the wife or servant could scour it with sand,  using a brush or a cloth.  This job of physical labor may have been done by the same poor women who did other people's laundry,  so there is not much written about it.  The only information comes from the household accounts of wealthy homes and a couple of 18th century domestic advice manuals written by housekeepers.
In 1753 Mary Johnson gave her views on best practices in cleaning.  She described herself as a  "Superintendent of a Lady of Quality's Family"  (in York,  England).  Housemaids working under her may have found her high standards a little daunting.  Her book,  Madam Johnson's Present,  says how  "very industrious"  they should be.  She wanted them to use sand for scrubbing dirty stoneware,  the outside of copper pots,  pewter  (using sand mixed with lye),  and more,  but they must never use sand on wooden dressers.
Floor cleaning is explained at length.  If you were going to clean a wooden floor you must start the night before by putting ox-gall on greasy spots.  Next morning a  "strong hot Lye,  made of Wood-Ashes"  went on the whole floor.  After spreading clean sand over that,  the maid was to get on her knees and scour the boards with a hard brush.
This picture and the one below are actually of a scene from the 
John Adams mini-series showing Abigail Adams scrubbing the 
floor of their home.  In actuality,  the Adams'  had a servant to do 
this sort of work.
Note that she is putting  (I believe)  water on the floor,  and right
after  (as the scene continued)  she poured some liquid from the 

bottle sitting near her over the same spot.
A second tour of the floor with a clean cloth was required before the final wipe with yet another cloth to speed up drying and keep the wood light in color.  Then they were through except for oiling the skirting boards,  as long as the floor wasn't dirty enough to need a longer treatment with more sand and cold water.
She then began to scrub the floor with what looked like a brick.
Again,  I've searched for information about using a brick to
scrub the floor,  to no avail.

Perhaps she did not have a hard brush readily available?
From the blog Boston 1775:
"The Adams’  never had slaves,  but as a genteel family they were used to having servants.  There are letters John and Abigail exchanged in 1764 as they were setting up their household and hiring help.  There is  (also)   a receipt from Rachel Marsh,  who received  “one pound six shillings and eight pence lawful money for a quarters wages”  from Abigail in May 1765.  Most modern Americans are unfamiliar,  even uncomfortable,  with the idea of personal servants,  but that was an essential element of eighteenth-century genteel life.  John Adams did work in his fields.  Abigail did clean her house.  But they didn’t do that work all alone."
The bedchamber of the
prosperous Giddings family.
Even though I cannot find a first-hand account of it actually being called  "spring cleaning,"  a good top-to-bottom going through when warm weather finally hit was not uncommon.  And,  as we have just read about sweeping and scrubbing the floors,  the want to remove the dirt of winter from the rest of the house would have commenced,  including  the cleaning of chimneys of the soot build up,  and pantries & bins to help keep it as clear of bugs and rodents as possible.
And feather beds would have been aired outside for a couple days so each side could be moistened by the dew and dried by the sun.
Beds and bedding were a bit different in the colonial period as compared to today.  A prosperous American of the 18th century slept on a bed made up of several layers.  At the bottom was a simple,  firm  “mattress”  pad or cushion filled with corn husks or horsehair.  Next came a big featherbed for comfort,  plus feather-filled bolsters and pillows.  People who lived on farms,  or close to them,  may have made their own from goose and duck feathers,  while town- and city-folk could have bought professionally made feather mattresses from someone like Betsy Ross  (yes,  she made these as well).
Besides the featherbeds,  blankets and linens,  too,  were to be washed and hung out for drying.
"Spring is particularly the time for house cleaning and bleaching linen"  states a quote I found,  though I do not know the year of it.
Scrubbing on the scrub board
Each room of the house is emptied and scrubbed and freshened with new whitewash and the furniture rubbed and polished.  Susan Leslie recalled her mother awaking before dawn to begin her housecleaning.  “The two parlors,  dining room,  entry and staircase are all carefully and thoroughly swept before six o’clock.  She then calls up her domestics,  if they are not already up.”
Heavy drapery is to be taken down and be replaced with the summer curtains,  fresh blinds replace the filthy ones that have taken on the winter's grime,  and the windows need to be washed.
Woolen clothing worn for weeks on unwashed bodies did not smell their best.  Flannel undergarments began to itch instead of providing comfort.
From 1812  (just barely into the 19th century,  so I suppose we can count it),  there is a letter written by Anne Kane to her mother as she described the effect of spring cleaning:  "...we have been so engaged in white washing and cleaning house and such a large smoky house as ours with so much woodwork that I have been fatigued to death both in mind and body."
Meanwhile,  outside the house,  the banking around the foundation,  put there the previous fall,  would be decaying at this point,  harboring mice and other vermin amid the hay,  dirt,  leaves,  and rotted vegetable matter,  and needed to be pulled away.

Despite the attention given to the great cabinet makers of Philadelphia or the shipping merchants and silversmiths of Boston,  the vast bulk of the population lived on farms growing food crops.  The colonial farmer of the 18th century relied on his large family for labor.  He raised cotton,  hemp,  and flax,  worked the fields in nearly all weather,  cobbled his own shoes,  pressed his own cider,  and constructed his own furniture,  while his wife spent her time doing laundry,  sewing,  spinning & dyeing,  gardening,  washing,  candle making,  caring for young ones,  and,  in the kitchen,  was nothing short of a culinary genius.
There was never a shortage of work for the eighteenth century farm family,  including the springtime.
 Painting by Eric Sloane
Or in this case,  late winter heading into spring,  for sugaring time was on its way of becoming a new American tradition.  It was the Native Americans who began the practice long before Europeans arrived in North America,  though no one knows what tribe first discovered it.
However,  by the later part of the 18th century,  maple sugaring was heralding the arrival of spring for the farmer,  and all hands were needed to execute this great labor.  Boys joined adult males as they spent several nights in the sugar camp set up in the woods.  The boys collected sap buckets and helped to process the tremendous volume of wood needed to maintain the fires under the huge sugar pots as they boiled off the water from the much-desired maple syrup.  The right time is usually between late February/early March through early April when the sap is flowing properly.  The nights are still cold enough to freeze sharply and the days warm enough to thaw freely.  The thermometer must not rise above forty degrees by day,  nor sink below 24 degrees at night.  It is this magic see-sawing between winter and spring that decides the sugaring season.
To collect the sap,  holes are bored in the maple tree,  followed by the hammering in of a wooden tube called a spile.  Under the spile a wooden bucket,  made by the local cooper,  is placed to catch the clear watery sap.  Each day the buckets of sap are emptied into one large barrel,  which is hauled back to the boiling area.
There,  three iron kettles made by the local blacksmith would hang over fires.  In the first kettle,  the watery tasteless sap is vigorously boiled over a roaring fire.  The water will gradually evaporate,  leaving behind a thicker,  sweeter liquid.  This is then ladled into the second kettle where it is gently boiled to thicken more.  Constant stirring keeps it from burning.
Maple Sugaring at Old Sturbridge Village 
photo courtesy of Vicki Stevens
This thick,  sweet syrup can then be poured into crocks to be used on porridge or cakes.  Or,  it can be ladled into the third kettle.  If this is done,  the liquid will then,  over a smaller fire,  be carefully stirred until it turns into sugar.  The sugar will be packed into wooden boxes and tubs to be used in the coming year.
Maple Sugaring at Old Sturbridge Village 
photo courtesy of Vicki Stevens
Though sugaring was laborious,  they would try to make it such a cheerful season,  for the whole family looked forward to this chore,  making it more play than work.
And,  of course,  one of the best parts of producing maple syrup was testing the outcome!
Just in case you are interested in maple sugaring
"Large countries within our Union are covered with Sugar maple as heavily as can be conceived,  and that this tree yeilds a sugar equal to the best from the cane,  yeilds it in great quantity,  with no other labor than what the women and girls can bestow . . . What a blessing to substitute a sugar which requires only the labor of children..."
--future President of the United States,  Thomas Jefferson 1791--
(Ah,  Mr.  Jefferson.  More than children and women were needed...)
Benjamin Rush,  physician and close friend of Thomas Jefferson,  in an attempt to convince the future president that maple sugar was not only equal to cane in quality,  but indeed that for the moral and economic good of the new nation,  felt it was imperative that Americans promote its manufacture to supplant the West India sugar trade.  In a remarkably short period of time,  maple sugar was transformed in the minds of the many American opinion leaders from a minor local crop produced mainly by subsistence farmers into a highly fashionable--perhaps deliciously profitable—new national industry.  During the early 1790s this phenomenon,  sometimes labeled  “the maple sugar bubble,”  inflamed the minds and hearts of such influential figures as Henry Drinker,  a well regarded Quaker merchant;  William Cooper,  founder of Cooperstown;  and of course,  Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Rush.  The writings of these men,  reflected and informed by articles written by supporters of the trade across New England,  all made the same point:  maple sugar could and should become a permanent replacement for cane sugar in America.
Now,  if you don't mind,  I'm going to step on a soap box for a moment here:
I have in front of me a bottle of Log Cabin Original Syrup.  Here are the ingredients:
corn syrup,  liquid sugar  (natural sugar,  water),  salt,  natural and artificial flavors  (lactic acid),  cellulose gum,  preservatives  (sorbic acid,  sodium benzoate),  sodium hexametaphosphate,  caramel color,  phosphoric acid.
Now here is what's in the bottle of  Spring Tree Maple Syrup  that is also in front of me:
100% pure maple syrup.
That's it.
Now,  what would you rather put into your body?
Methinks that the Log Cabin syrup is somehow not quite as original as they say...
Okay,  I'm off my soap box now.

The floors are scrubbed and the wool 
has been spun and dyed.
I pray that God sees it right to
bless us with a fine growing season
this new year. 
For the colonial farmers,  the new year began in March:
'twas on March 25,  1620 that a diary entry noted,  "The new year beginneth."
You see,  March,  before 1752,  was the first month of the year,  but due to the Julian leap year formula overcompensating for the actual length of a solar year,  having added an extra day every 128 years,  seasonal equinoxes were falling 10 days  "too early,"  and some church holidays,  such as Easter,  did not always fall in the proper seasons.
It wasn't until 1750 that an act of Parliament in England changed calendars dates to align with the Gregorian Calendar  (after Pope Gregory XIII)  rather than remain with the Julian calendar.  The beginning of the legal new year was then moved from March 25 to January 1.
Henceforth,  New Year's celebrations would take place on the evening of December 31st and last into the following day.
(Read more about this HERE)
For farmers,  however,  February's last days remained as they had always kept it,  and accounts and diaries were closed and inventories were made.  There was talk of spring and the new farm year.  All farm calendars and diaries,  almanacs and agricultural manuals continued to appropriately  (for them)  begin with March.  "The new year is at our door,"  says a diary entry of the period,  "spring is with us in March when we are yet sitting by the fireside..."
The American farmer,  who drank cider daily at his table instead of water or milk,  was more or less a sober man.  But mead and  'hardened cider brandy'  were always in order during the March preparations for the coming seasons of labor,  no matter the after effects.
As far as keeping a spotless farmhouse,   I noted a line I found in the Benson Ford Research Center Daggett House information folder:
"While sanitation was not unknown,  most  (farmers)  felt no urgency about cleaning up.  In fact,  hardworking farm families saw dirt as something positive,  even healthy,  as it gave life and livelihood in the form of crops."
There were housekeepers who did house cleaning,  but,  in general,  farms were somewhat dirtier,  with more bugs,  and a bit smelly,  too.  Doors that did not shut tightly,  windows without screens,  those floors without rugs or carpets,  and large open fireplaces guaranteed that dust,  dirt,  insects,  even barnyard animals,  would invade the house.  Manure from the barn & stables and the mud of fall & winter covering the soles of shoes are now ground into the floors and rugs,  firewood chips and slivers lie throughout,  especially in corners.
This is not to say,  however,  that they did not clean,  especially after the long cold winter.  It just was not the top priority,  for,  as you shall see,  there was so much to be done for survival.

There is always talk,  in our modern time,  of the differences between the youth of today and their counterparts of the past.  Boys in the 18th century who were still under the age of ten not only knew how to expertly use firearms,  but also learned how to handle an ax and keep it ready for use.  The ax,  aside from his rifle,  was perhaps the most important tool that a man could have had.  And just as girls helped their mothers with the housework,  boys worked next to their fathers in the fields.
For the sustainability of a farm,  fences were,  and are,  considered a prime necessity.  Almanac after almanac began the month of March with  "Look to your fences."  March was the ideal season for storing up firewood and splitting fence-rails.  March winds dry out the winter-cut logs in the woods,  making them easier to haul in.
Chopping...
...and gathering in the 18th century
Fuel wood.
Written in the diary of Noah Blake  (from 1805)):
"March 26,  1805
A light snow fell which father believes will be the last of the winter.  We fell'd a fine oak and rolled it upon rails for Spring seasoning.  Mother is joyous at the thought of a good wood floor.
March 27,  1805
...it snowed again today.  We kept within the house,  sharpening and making ready tools for the year's farming."
Although March was the month for hauling in and cutting up wood,  the actual felling of trees for fence material was often done during the second running of sap,  in August.  By way of a wooden mallet,  rails were always split by hammering on them with wedges,  never by striking them with an ax.  The use of wooden hammers is now almost a lost art,  but the workshop of days long past had a great variety of them.
This chore of laying up new fuel wood also heralded the end of winter,  the season of the hearth.  Besides heating and cooking equipment,  there were always a few pieces of wood present,  being seasoned by the winter fire.  Special wood for ax handles and other farm tools was laboriously dried at the fireplace,  and even lightly charred for strength.  Special pieces were often left near the fireplace for as long as a year,  to render them properly seasoned.

From tapping the trees for syrup to mending fences & tools,  the next big job a farmer had was hauling manure from the manure pile in the barnyard to the field where he would later plow and plant.  The gutters behind the cows were cleaned daily and the mixture of straw and manure became an ever-growing pile in the barnyard.  Mucking the stall and removing the dung was generally done by the males in the household.  Then would come the duty of spreading the manure...I would venture to guess this was probably the worst job in a farmer's year.
It was in April where in a diary was written:  "The three horses carting manure from the yard to Field Number 2 and covering it with the drill plough,  Seven workers,  including one woman,  were spreading the manure..."
No matter how much one may love cows and horses,  I can almost guarantee they will simply despise having to shovel manure onto a wheelbarrow or cart and then haul it out to the manure pile.
But it had to be done.  From November through the end of  March,  while the animals spent their nights in the barn,  it had to be done.
And then,  once spring planting preparations began,  the farmer again would have to haul the pile,  load after cart load,  out to the planting field.  This was an arduous ordeal,  for hauling a heavy load of manure through the crevice-filled field was no easy task.
Then came the duty of spreading...I would venture to guess this was probably the worst job in a farmer's year.  Shovels-full of manure thrown onto the land to be spread,  whether by rake,  plow,  or harrow was truly back-breaking,  and took days to weeks to complete.

Next it was time for plowing.  A plow is one of the oldest of farming tools and was another challenging tilling necessity.  The process of plowing is an unbroken link to the past,  one of which is carried on today,  though with much greater ease than in days of old.  The plow,  of course,  breaks up and turns over the soil,  bringing fresh nutrients to the surface,  while burying weeds,  crop remains,  and the manure to decay.  The plow creates the trenches known as furrows to make it smoother for planting.  Farming would be near impossible without this tool.
Plowing...1770
Back and forth,  walking literally mile after mile.  Arms,  as use to gripping the wood handles as they were,  ached nightly,  and they ached even worse come the next morning when the farmer,  once again, would find himself behind the one,  maybe two,  plow horses in the cool of the morning,  digging the wooden mould-board tool into the ground to turn up the soil that had laid dormant and frozen all the long winter.
The plow pictured here is from 1775 and is made of wood.

Yep,  that's 1860s Ken holding the 
plow.  I was bound and determined 
to do it right!  And with Steve 
at my side,  how could I not?
~By the way,  in 2014 I was very lucky to have had the opportunity to plow behind a team of horses,  something I've never done before but had wanted to experience for years.  Since this ancient chore was new to me,  I wasn't quite sure what to expect,  and what I found was that it is much tougher of a chore than I imagined;  my legs felt as if I had run through wet sand with 15 lb weights on each ankle.  However, my arms and upper torso felt great.   I did a couple of furrows,  which was all my legs could handle  (this modern city boy is not in the same physical shape as an 18th or 19th century farmer,  that's for sure!),  but, thanks to the good folk at Firestone Farm inside Greenfield Village,  I now can say I plowed behind horses.
The best part? 
I didn't make a fool of myself  (seriously - I was pretty nervous about that!).  In fact,   I was told that I did very well and kept my furrows pretty straight.  Well,  that certainly meant a lot to me.
This experience was,  in all honesty,  the highlight of not only my historical year,  but in my living history hobby as a whole.~

It was after plowing that the farmer would use the harrow to further spread and even out the dirt for planting.  The purpose of a harrow is to break up the clumps of soil and to provide a smoother finish to the land,  making for better planting and growth.  Back across the field mister farmer would go,  and when he finished in one direction,  he would harrow  (or drag)  the field crosswise to smooth it even further.
Harrowing the land.
Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian
Henry Ford once commented that children knew more about wars than about harrows,  even though harrows did more to build this country than wars.  Hence,  this was part of his reasoning in creating the Greenfield Village open-air museum;  to show the importance of everyday life of the past.   Ford is also known for his oft-repeated  (usually out of context)   history is bunk!  statement:  "History,  as it is taught in the schools,  deals largely with...wars,  major political controversies,  territorial extensions and the like.  When I went to our American history books to learn how our forefathers harrowed the land,  I discovered that the historians knew nothing about harrows.   Yet our country depended more on harrows than on guns or great speeches.  I thought a history which excluded harrows and all the rest of daily life is bunk,  and I think so yet."
It was in May when the patch of land for growing flax would be harrowed and sowed.  Flax was important in a number of ways,  including the spinning into linen after preparation,  as well as for making candle wicking.  And to help with a mental scene,  from the book A Day In a Colonial Home by Della R. Prescott:  “Daughter,  take this flagon  (a container for holding liquids)  of buttermilk up to the flax patch.  We saved this much in the churn.  ‘Tis ten o’clock and father and John must be hungry.  This drink will help them through the next hour.”
It is unfortunate that there may,  at times,  be a varmint,  perhaps a woodchuck  (for they have been known to eat flax plants),  who made a home where the patch would be,  so the flint-lock would be used to take care of the situation.  There was no calling animal control.

"When the oak leaves are the size of a field mouse's ear,  then it's time to plant the corn,"  was a popular old-time saying.
Another said that the whippoorwill offered a reminder for corn planting,  calling soon after sunset when the days began to warm  (usually in May).
Planting the crop was a critical step with no room for error.  Missing a section of a field could cause a huge problem:  no seed in the ground,  no crop.
Aye,  my early spring plants are beginning to 
sprout.  Mayhaps my asparagus,  parsnips, 
and pea greens will be ready shortly.
For centuries,  farmers sowed grain by hand;  shouldering a bag of seed,  the farmer walked up and down the tilled field,  fingering the seeds from side to side.  As noted in an ancient diary:  "On spring-plowed fields it was heavy traveling for the man who carried grain and sowed by hand.  Of course,  it was heavy work,  even traveling over fall-plowed ground,  with the grain hung over the shoulders,  and the steady swing of the right arm throwing the grain as the right foot advanced,  and dipping the hand into the bag for another cast of grain as the left foot advanced."
But the sowing process and outcome was frustrating at best.  There is an old proverb that I recall hearing in my own youth from my own farming grandfather that had carried over from times past which best describes the planting of seeds:
One for the mouse,
one for the crow,
one to rot,
and one to grow.

Ian Anderson,  founding member of the 
group Jethro Tull,  performs at the grave 
of the original Jethro Tull.
Did you know that our first President,  George Washington,  was a fan of Jethro Tull?
It's true!
Though it wasn't until the late 18th century and into the 19th century that it's popularity grew,  it was Jethro Tull,  an English agriculturalist,  who is credited with inventing the first practical seed drill back in 1701,  allowing farmers to plant their crop much easier and more uniform.   George Washington owned a book called  "Horse-Hoeing Husbandry"  written by Tull,  and he became a practitioner of his ideas.
I think it would be kind of funny for me,  as one from the 21st century,   to see and hear George Washington having a conversation about Jethro Tull.
(To jump into the future a moment,  it was in Wisconsin in 1860 that brothers George and Daniel Van Brunt patented a design for a combination drill and cultivator that was pulled by a team of horses.  This was an immediate success and gained in popularity throughout the early 1860's.  By the end of the Civil War the Van Brunt Company was producing 1300 grain drills a year)~

For the farmer's wife,  spring was her time to plan and prepare for the all-important kitchen garden.  The kitchen garden was where plants for use in the kitchen and homelife were planted and cultivated.  Though there would be vegetables,  herb seeds were among the first things to go into the ground.  Some herbs were even used for pesticides to deter flies,  fleas,  and moths.  And dill,  fennel,  rosemary,  tansey,  thyme,  sorrel,  and basil were considered to be essential to any colonial garden.
Alongside the herbs,  this is what many colonials planted in their kitchen gardens in April or May in the northern colonies,  as well as in the upper middle colonies,  and even in the settlements on the frontier Great Lakes region:  onions,  potatoes,  peas,  skirret,  lettuce,  leeks,  cabbage,  and asparagus.
Parsley,  skirret,  and sorrel were planted for use in salads  ("sallets")  as well as seasonings for meats that had been heavily salted for preservation.
Planning the kitchen garden at 1760s Daggett farm. 
Many times the garden would be supplemented 
with a greenhouse,  a strawberry patch,  and fruit trees.
What was available for a family to eat in winter and spring depended on a wife's careful preservation of their excess produce.  For many families,  particularly those in the north,  a woman's expertise in this area made the difference between comfort and starvation,  not only through the winter but well into the spring.  The family that did not have time to plant a garden,  especially those out on the frontier,  faced a winter of intense hardship.  John Reynolds and his family survived on very little while on the Pennsylvania frontier:  "Our bread was flour and water without salt or leaven,  baked in the ashes in thin cakes.  Bacon was our standing dish of meat.  Chocolate with sassafras or winter-green tea was our drink at meals.  Vegetables we had none."
The importance of the kitchen garden cannot be overstated.
May is also the month when tomatoes and peppers and beans and corn and squash and pumpkin and melon and cucumbers and whatever else feasible could be planted.  Sarah Bryant often noted in her diary when the hens began to lay,  and wrote the dates of the first blossoming of plums,  peaches,  apples,  and cherries in her orchard.  Her diary also records the first sowing of grains and garden vegetables,  including when she saw the first peas and cucumbers peaking through.  In fact,  it would be the month of May when radishes,  lettuce,  asparagus,  and even new peas could start popping up.
And,  as so many of her time  (and even in our modern times),  she often worried over the threat of the damage a late frost could do during blooming season.
Preparing the kitchen garden...
Part of the kitchen garden included plants used for medicinal purposes,  for the wife was also the family doctor.  Included in this section would be wormwood,  which was a purgative for stomach issues or worms,  tansy was used to stop bleeding and bruising,  St.  John's Wort,  used to help with wounds,  skin irritations,  and consumption,  and chamomile,  which was used,  same as it is today,  to make a calming tea.
Starting from seed...
It is to be expected that kitchen garden produce would have been thought of and planned out from the onset,  for these were the necessities of life.  But the  "ornamental"  flowering plants,  most,  of which were brought over from Europe in years past,  were not forgotten,  and before long they,  too,  were growing side by side in the colonial garden.  Such varieties as love-lies-bleeding,  coreopsis,  hyacinth,  foxglove,  tawny daylily,  and hollyhock could be seen in many colonial gardens.  Many of the more decorative plants could also be used beyond their beauty,  for instance,  in dyeing wool the brilliant colors seen on clothing as well as medicinal.

The husband also used a portion of the kitchen garden:
Growing hops to be ready for fall beer brewing time.
And beer was a vital necessity beverage for families,  
including the wee ones.
'twas not only farmers who had kitchen gardens;  the yards of  city and townsfolk would also care for their own patch of land to grown the necessities they would need as well.


Sheep shearing time was another chore that took place in later spring,  after the assurance of no more snow arriving.  Written in 1765:  "The proper time to shear your sheep is in the increase of the moon,  in May;  and,  if you have the conveniency,  make a pen near some water course or pond,  and wash your sheep before you shear them:  As soon as they are washed turn them into a small enclosure that has plenty of grass,  and let them run on it two or three days,  or until you see the fatty or oily substance shedding amongst the wool.  Then is the proper time to shear them,  for that is a great preservation to the wool."
Shearing sheep is usually done only once a year so that the sheep are free of their heavy wool coats for the hot summer months.  You would not want to shear the animals too early in the spring,  however,  for fear of not-so-fair weather for the animals.  Going from a full thick winter wool coat to almost no coat can be a bit stressful for the animal,  and more so if the weather is cold.  Since lambing occurs in the late spring or early summer,  shearing often takes place in April or early May.  A sheep without her fleece is pretty naked looking!  This annual ritual also has the benefit of producing salable wool or,  if you're like my wife,  spinning it into yarn yourself.
Sheep Shearing at Colonial Williamsburg
(found on the internet - no name listed)
Most farmers prefer to have their sheep sheared before lambing commences,  usually about a month before,  for the ewes are still a few weeks away from full pregnancy so the process is little easier on them.
Shearing before lambing also helps to keep the animals cleaner during birthing as they won't have a full fleece for blood and afterbirth to collect in.  Some farmers also believe the lambs have an easier time finding the udder on a shorn ewe.

Not much left in the root cellar
(photo courtesy of Hobby Farms)
With March,  April,  and May signaling the end of the winter season,  the family would most likely be using up things in the root cellar;  by the time springtime arrived,  people were nearing the end of their winter storage of the food from last fall's harvest and were looking forward to the season of growing.
However,  some of the winter vegetables may have begun to rot,  and the apples,  in many cases,  could be getting soft.  Mushy potatoes would be made into starch,  and the winter's accumulation of fat would be made into soap before it turned rancid.
Then there were the winter squash,  carrots,  onions,  and dried beans,  though it would not be long before fresh asparagus could sprout  (in May).  There might also soon be fresh lettuce available,  especially if one had cold frames or hot frames to grow them in.
Pickled items of all sorts would be on the pantry shelves,  cucumber pickles,  watermelon rind pickles,  sauerkraut,  pickled peppers,  pickled onions,  etc…
For fruit there probably would have been jellies,  jams,  and the last of those softened cellar apples mentioned earlier.
Smoked and salted meat

In the meat category,  ham was popular since it was getting warmer,  and whatever was left in the smokehouse wasn't likely to keep much longer.  The sow has farrowed and now piglets were to be raised.  There could be lamb and veal,  meaning if one didn't make it,  guess what?  There could be a suckling pig or lamb to eat for Sunday dinner  (newborn animals that didn't make it were not wasted).  There could still be fresh beef maybe,  but most probable there wouldn't be any left.  Salted beef would be much more likely.
Into May we have another diary entry from a holiday no longer celebrated:
 "Rog.  Sunday.  After meeting,  we all walked our boundaries,"  wrote Noah Blake in his diary on May 19,  1805.
Now here is something I was not familiar with until recently.  "Rog.  Sunday,"  as Noah wrote,  is actually Rogation Sunday,  which was the day when farmers looked to their land and crops and prayed for a bountiful harvest.  It was on this day when the clergy and his flock walked through the village and out into the fields to bless the planted ground.  In the evening of Rogation Sunday,  farmers and their families walked the boundaries of their own property;  it was both inventory and a time for giving thanks for their land.

.

Though I cannot find those words,  "spring cleaning"  listed anywhere in any of my 18th century primary source research material,  one can easily see that there were annual springtime rituals that took place once the winter weather began to mellow and not be as bitter.  And in today's post I did center on farm life during these spring months more than urban life,  for not only did the greater majority of the populace live on farms during the 18th century,  but that was where a clear definitive showing of spring seemed to take place.  Farm life offered the complete satisfaction of knowing that each day's work had been truly productive,  a joy scarce in present times.  In the old days,  whether one was a blacksmith,  a butcher,  a carpenter,  a politician,  or a banker,  they were also a farmer.  Even the earliest silk-hatted and powdered-wigged American had gnarled hands that knew the plow.  George Washington and every member of his first Congress farmed with their own hands.  Before setting out for the day,  there were chores to be done that often took as much time as a complete day's work for the average man of today.
It was their survival.
A restful moment after a good day's work.
Until next time,  see you in time.
Happy spring!


Surviving wintertime past,  click HERE
Living in the winter during colonial times,  click HERE
Summertime in the 19th century,  click HERE
Autumn in the colonies,  click HERE
And another Autumn celebration in the colonies,  click HERE
Spend a year on a colonial farm:,  click HERE


So many thanks must go to the various presenters at the Daggett House in Greenfield Village,  for they have helped to immerse me with knowledge and action.
Information on maple sugaring came from THIS thesis written by Eleni Angelos Healey.
Other sources used:
"The Seasons of America Past"  by Eric Sloane 
"Our Vanishing Landscape"  by Eric Sloane
"Barnyard in your Backyard"  by Gail Damerow
"Daily Life in Colonial New England"  by Claudia Durst Johnson
and a small bit from
"Family Life in 17th and 18th Century America"  by James M. Volo & Dorothy Denneen Volo
"Plants of Colonial Days"  by Raymond L.  Taylor
"The American Farmer in the 18th Century" by Richard Bushman  (read the reviews before purchasing)
The history of brooms was found HERE
Cleaning floors information partly came from HERE
Information about John and Abigail Adams comes from THIS site


































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