A large group of us went to the Harvest Ball in Lansing, Michigan on the 22 of October. It's held in an old church, which gives it a very period feel. What's nice about this ball is that, first of all it's limited to 100 people (tickets are sold ahead of time). The other thing is that it does not follow a reenactment. Yes, you heard me - it's a ball for a ball's sake and attendees are refreshed and raring to dance without having a full day of reenacting behind them. The ladies literally spend nearly half of the day dolling themselves up to be as pretty as can be. My wife says the hair takes the longest. The finest band in the land - Glen Morningstar's Michigan Ruff Water String Band - are our musicians, and Glenn will announce at the beginning of the evening that because most of us there are "seasoned" dancers he likes to try new old-time dances on us. But he will also have the favorites such as the Virginia Reel and the Spanish Waltz.
One of the nicest traditions for a few of us is to meet for dinner beforehand, and we always head to the Okemos (a tiny town near Lansing) Cracker Barrel restaurant. What a sight we are to the waitresses and patrons alike! At times we may get multiple waitresses just so they can have a chance to speak with us.
This year we made quite a splash, for there were eighteen of us in attendance! We made sure we took plenty of photographs to commemorate the day, including sitting in the rockers outside the restaurant.
Two of the gentlemen enjoyed a friendly game of checkers.
Ball day has become a special part of our reenacting year, and because wintertime is just around the bend many of us may not see each other until next spring (just like in the old days!) and that makes this day even more of a grand affair.
(Click any of the photos in this - or any other - post to get a larger image)
Historical research - don't you love it? I certainly do!
But I have a question for you - - - when you are researching something, do you only research that particular item (or craft or clothing...) and end it there? Or do you take what you've learned a step further...researching whatever it is you are studying to see how it applied to everyday life?
Recently...well, in fact, yesterday, I was reading an older posting that I wrote about Pre-Beatles Rock and Roll and I noticed that it was really only partly done in that it sounded more like an advertisement for Time Life Music than an article about early rock music.
- I must have written it in a hurry -
So I took it upon myself to 'complete' the article to give the reader a greater idea of the why's and wherefore's of the music instead of only how one could obtain it. And that got me to thinking about all historical research; I think too many of us half at it when we study history and get only get a dictionary definition rather than a well-rounded encyclopedic picture. Expand - that's the word, the verb, we're looking for. I have learned to use this wonderful word in my research - - expand. To give greater detail in your quest for knowledge of the over-all period in time that interests you is taking that extra step. For instance, if you have an interest in stage coach travel, then learn about the parts of the stage itself and of the men who made them. Learn about the types of roads the coaches traveled over. Study what tavern life was like, for many folks who traveled on stage coaches invariably spent time in a tavern, whether just for board or for an overnight stay. It's in this way you can have a more well-rounded and total picture of the subject at hand (please see my posting and stage coach and taverns to get a better idea of what I mean here).
Another example of expanding your historical knowledge involves something that nearly all living historians/reenactors begin their 'hobby' with: period clothing.
Here is an original 1860's men's frock coat (from the collection of Bill Christen)
There are those who lean heavily on studying period clothing. These are the people that will collect original examples, from hats and bonnets right down to the undergarments. They will also usually collect cdv's to study clothing as well. A cdv, for those who are unaware, is an acronym for the French carte de visite or visiting card. This style of antique photography took over in popularity from the daguerreotype or ambrotype of the 1840s and 1850s and carried on into the 1860's and (I believe) 1870's. In many cases, by studying cdv's one can see in great detail exactly how clothing of the period should look as it's worn, and many have been able to make replicas of the period clothing to either wear for themselves, sell, or to even make a pattern for. I have numerous friends who are well-versed in their period clothing expertise, and they have helped my wife and I learn what we should (and should not) wear during an event.
There are a few of these clothing historians that have done enough research on historical wearing apparel that they can tell you why each piece was worn, the time of day, the season, and for what reason. They understand and can "bring alive" those who originally wore that particular garment.
Here is a CDV of a working man and his daughters
By the way, I am not necessarily speaking of sellers who run a sutlery. Oh yes, there are a few very good sutlers. But unfortunately there are many - too many - out to make a buck and will gladly sell you whatever they have whether it's period correct or not! Just so you know (for newbies in the 'hobby').
There is one particular person (who shall remain nameless at this time) that I consider my mentor. This women not only knows clothing of the period, but her general knowledge of everyday life of the 1860's goes beyond anyone else I have met. She has studied speech and manners, etiquette, food, home tools/accessories, furniture, occupations...the list goes on and on...
And she willingly shares her knowledge - not in an uppity way but in a very friendly conversational style.
Best of all, she is not afraid to say if she does not know the answer to a specific historical question. Unlike a few that I know, she will not assume or make things up. She may offer a possibility or an opinion but she makes it clear that she may not have the facts if she truly doesn't.
She, too, is in a constant state of research.
This is the way that I am trying to be.
But I've had retention problems that will sometimes prevent me from sharing what I have learned, which can be very frustrating.
However, I am overcoming that...
I read somewhere (and I apologize that I don't remember where) that the human brain only retains a mere smidgen of what we read; it was something like 3% of an entire book. The rest we almost immediately forget as soon as we read it. As I just stated, I have found this to be true with myself. I'll find an amazing book - Our Own Snug Fireside for instance - and there will be loads of wonderful historical information, the kind that I just eat up. But it seems that once I close the book at the end of a chapter, all of that living historical information leaks out of my brain like a sieve except for a few small things that made a strong impression while I read them.
This isn't something new for me - I've always had this problem, especially when I was in school. But a number of years ago I discovered a way that I could retain the information better: rather than reading the book as a book - you know, all at once, chapter by chapter - I instead flip to points of interest at any given time. For instance, I am interested in colonial hearth cooking and the equipment used. So the other morning at breakfast I found that particular section in my "Snug Fireside" book and studied what was written on the subject. In this way I can read about any one topic that I may have a want or a curiosity about rather than go through each entire chapter and read - but not retain - information I may not be interested presently. Reading my history books in this manner - just jumping around book to book, section of interest to section of interest - has greatly helped my retention level.
And it sticks with me, too!
This is wool that was sheared, cleaned, combed, spun, and dyed using traditional natural methods (roots, plants, and berries) at the Daggett House. It's simple enough for one to spin wool on a spinning wheel. But that's only a very small part of the entire process. Expand! See?
It's also a way for me to learn about many different topics instead of just a few chosen interests. One of the problems I have encountered is some of the men have a stigma on learning about women's work of the 19th century. Seriously. I mean, we know what our wives do today - and they know our chores as well - so why wouldn't we know about their chores of 'yesterday' ? As men we absolutely would! I watch as my wife spins on her spinning wheel. I've even helped her pick out the dirt and seeds from the raw wool. And I'll help her dye the wool when she does that as well. And I'll study other subjects, no matter if it was for a male or a female: the other day it was hearth cooking. And by reading about hearth cooking I also learned about the differing types of pans and ladles used to cook. And that lead me to read about the local blacksmith and how he made these cooking utensils in his shop. And to the potter shop to read about plate and cup making.
Do you see where this is leading?
Now tomorrow I may look up coopering, and later this week I may learn of a domestic's duties. I also have a want to learn more about the variety of mills in the mid-19th century. Crazy, huh? But who knows where each of these topics may lead me? So for me, my method of bopping around a book rather than reading it straight through has actually given me much more knowledge of the era. It helps to show me how it all ties in together in the family home of the mid-19th century because I do take that extra researching step and, more importantly, I retain the information.
I have also found that I can join in and share on nearly any topic of the mid-19th century and beyond. And if any one subject is spoken of during a conversation (stage coach travel for instance) I can then expand on that subject to accent and fill in the holes missing.
It has come to my attention that an open-air museum - Billie Creek Village in Rockville, Indiana, which has numerous 100+ year old buildings on its grounds - is up for sale and may close permanently after the 2011 season. I learned of this from one of the blogs that I follow, Front Porch Indiana.
During discussions under the comments section it was suggested that it would be nice to have someone with a ton of money purchase the place and keep it maintained instead of spending money on "ghastly ginormous houses, private jumbo airliners, and the like."
Wouldn't that be something?
It did happen before...not just once but twice!
Did you know almost a hundred years ago two very rich visionaries - Henry Ford and John D. Rockefeller - preserved history, most of which otherwise would have been lost?
Yes, it's true. I'd like to give a little bit on these two giants of the early 20th century and how they began their historical preservation journey.
Henry Ford's first preservation project was more out of wistfulness than anything else - it was to restore his own family farm, the house in which he was born and raised. This home, built in 1861 by his father William, was a simple two-story clapboard farmhouse on the dividing line of Springwells and Dearborn Townships in Michigan. In 1919, highway officials decided to extend Greenfield Road south; unfortunately, the homestead was directly in the proposed road's path. The family's decision to move - thus save - the house and the outbuildings prompted Ford's of restoration. It was decided to bring back the old homestead to the way they remembered it as it was in 1876 - the year Henry's mother passed away. He obtained every piece of original furniture, pictures, and equipment that could be found. He had his men searching high and low for every artifact that matched the memories of the Ford family as well and soon found many more items than necessary. Mr. Ford kept them all, and then some.
The news of Mr. Ford's restoration project and his penchant for collecting Americana of the previous century got out, and, in 1923, he was asked to restore The Wayside Inn in South Sudbury, Massachusetts, built in 1686. Ford bought the inn and 2600 acres of the land surrounding to not only restore the historic structure, but to preserve the setting in which the inn was located.
Closer to home, Ford, in 1924, purchased and restored the 1836 Botsford Tavern, located outside of Detroit. Henry Ford had first seen the tavern while courting his future wife, Clara, in a horse and buggy in the 1880's.
It was only a scant year or two after that Henry began formulating his plans for a restoration project that went far beyond anyone's wildest imagination; a complete village of restored homes and businesses representing everyday life in the America of the 18th and 19th century where he could show how American ingenuity of the past transformed the world into the modern age.
Right around the same time that Henry Ford was busily saving Americana from disappearing, there was a town in Virginia that, for the most part, time had seemingly passed by. Williamsburg, as it appeared as late as the early 20th century, still retained many of its original structures from over a hundred years earlier. There was one man, a visionary named Dr. William Goodwin, that saw an opportunity to do what most other towns and cities could not - restore Williamsburg back to its original historical appearance from when it was the capitol city of Virginia in the mid-to-late 18th century. And why not? Most of the original structures were still standing, though many had been modified and updated from their original form. Of course, this would take bundles of cash, of which Goodwin did not have nearly enough. To gather interest he stated, "The best way to look at history is through windows. There are windows here, and there were others, which might be restored, through which unparalleled vistas open into the nation's past." (from the book Williamsburg Before and After by George Humphrey Yetter).
The author continued to state (in part) that Goodwin sought out backers of his project for he truly felt that Williamsburg was one colonial city left whose restoration was feasible because it hadn't been swallowed up by burgeoning urban growth. Knowing of Ford's Wayside Inn restoration, he appealed to Henry Ford's family for support. He wrote a letter to Ford's son, Edsel, stating: "Other men have bought rare books and preserved historic houses. No man yet has had the vision and courage to buy and to preserve a Colonial village, and Williamsburg is the one remaining Colonial village which any man could buy. Unfortunately, you and your father are at present the chief contributors to the destruction of this city. With new concrete roads...passing through the city, garages, and gas tanks are fast spoiling the whole appearance of the old streets and the old city, and most of the cars which stop at the garages and gas tanks are Ford cars. It would be the most unique and spectacular gift to American history and to the preservation of American traditions that could be made by any American."
The very short reply from the Fords said, in part, that "(Ford) was unable to interest himself in the matter mentioned."
You think, after a letter such as Goodwin's?
Well, anyhow, Goodwin continued searching for monetary support and soon found it through various organizations such as The Colonial Dames of America. And it was because of the donations that he was able to restore a few of the buildings. But, only a few. He wanted the whole town of Williamsburg restored.
It was during a speech he gave while in New York that turned the course of history, for John D. Rockefeller was in the audience and Goodwin invited him to visit Williamsburg. The Rockefeller family did visit the city and was given an enthusiastic tour of not only what had already been restored but of the possibilities of what a full restoration could do and mean.
Again, according to Williamsburg Before and After, Rockefeller said "The opportunity to restore an entire colonial community and keep it from incongruous surroundings was irresistible."
Goodwin was then authorized to engage an architect to preliminary drawings showing the town's restored appearance.
Welcome back Colonial Williamsburg!
Under the 'comments' section of the Front Porch Indiana blog's post I wrote: It has been a dream of mine to buy an open-air museum/village and to turn it into a true and total living history "locale" - a place where visitors, and even the presenters, would feel like they literally time-traveled."
One response was, "It's been for sale for some time. The couple who own it are a lovely couple but not exactly in the prime of their lives. If it doesn't sell, I don't look for it to be open after this festival."
And still another wrote (and this is repeated from the top as well): "Imagine how much good any of those billionaires could do, and instead they mostly spend money on ghastly ginormous houses, private jumbo airliners, and the like."
This same person also commented: "Maybe if it doesn't sell. a group of volunteers could form to do that."
Grand ideas. Can we make them come to pass?
Either way, a historical village - fabricated or not - such as Billie Creek Village should be saved for future generations to enjoy and learn.
If I only had the money...well, this is what I'd do: It Takes A Village
Earlier this year I wrote a posting on a few of the thousands of historical objects on display at the Henry Ford Museum.
And nearly four years ago I wrote my very first posting about this wonderful place. Well, here's an updated version of that March 2008 post that makes a fine part two to this year's post:
The entrance way to the Henry Ford Museum
By now I'm sure you've read of my fondness for the Greenfield Village open air museum located in Dearborn, Michigan. If you haven't you must be new to this blog. Well, on the same grounds of the Village is the Henry Ford Museum, an indoor collection of Americana second only to the Smithsonian in scope. That's a mighty big claim, I know, but read on to see why:
When Henry Ford (the man/car magnet) began collecting all things American back in the early days of the 20th century, folks from all over were very happy to help him out by sending him all of their "junk" they had stored in their basements and garages. Items of little use, including old-time farm implements, cooking and heating stoves, yarn winders, eating utensils, furniture, watches & clocks, spinning wheels, guns, etc.
Little did they know that what they were giving away (and in some cases, selling) would one day become museum pieces - objects that told the story of the average (and not-so-average) American of the 18th and 19th centuries. Other museums at the time held paintings of the great artists, furniture of kings and queens, and items that people of great wealth once owned. But that wasn't what Mr. Ford was interested in. He wanted to show the things that made America great. He wanted the light to shine on folks like you and me - everyday people.
At one point, Ford realized he needed a place to store all of his treasures and decided to build a museum, originally called the Edison Institute, after his hero Thomas Edison.
Ford’s collection grew beyond the everyday items that he obtained: more classic automobiles that you can imagine, George Washington’s camp bed and trunk from the late 1700’s, trains and more trains, buggies and carriages, pre- WWII airplanes, an original 1940’s diner, the car that Kennedy was killed in, a writing desk belonging to Mark Twain, and another belonging to Edgar Allen Poe, a teapot made by Paul Revere, Henry Ford’s very first car known as the Quadricycle, an original MacDonald’s sign from the 1950’s, lighting through the years…the collection of Americana just goes on and on.
There is one very unique piece of American History here that goes beyond the scope of what other museums - including the Smithsonian - has: the Lincoln Rocker.
This is the actual chair that President Lincoln was sitting in at the Ford Theater on the evening of April 14, 1865. To his right sat his wife Mary, and just beyond her were their guests, Major Henry Rathbone and Clara Harris. Of course, as you (hopefully) know, around 10:30 John Wilkes Booth shot our 16th president at point blank in the back of the head, and the rest of the story is history.
Except for this chair.
What most do not know is that this chair now sits in the Henry Ford Museum. According to the web site American Lincoln Online"The rocker's importance became obvious immediately after Lincoln's death. The War Department held it as evidence during the trial of the assassination conspirators.
And from an article in the Washington Post:
In January 1867, the War Department sent it to the Department of the Interior. Interior Secretary O.H. Browning acknowledged receipt of the chair, writing, "It will afford me satisfaction to have the Chair deposited in the proper place, among other relics, in this Department for safekeeping."
Soon after, the chair - along with the stovepipe hat Lincoln wore to the theater that night - were put on display at the Patent Office building. They were exhibited for only a year or two, and in 1869 the two items were delivered to the Smithsonian. They were kept in storage, their exact whereabouts a closely held secret.
In 1893 the chair was sent to a museum that Union veteran and Lincolniana collector Osborn Oldroydit opened at 516 10th St. NW, the house in which Lincoln died.There it stayed for the next four years. It was returned to the Smithsonian, where in 1902 it finally received an official accession number - 38912 - and was catalogued in the Department of Anthropology. And it was there that the chair remained...in storage. Then, in 1928, Blanche Chapman Ford, the widow of Harry Clay Ford (the original owner of the chair who loaned it to the Ford Theater for Lincoln's use), wrote to the Smithsonian. Was it true, she asked, that they had the chair, and if so, "Will you kindly tell me why it is not on exhibition?" She added that if it was not of use to the museum she would like to have it. Smithsonian curator Theodore Belote responded that it was the museum's policy not to show objects "directly connected with such a horrible and deplorable event." Perhaps, but Brian Daniels, a Smithsonian Archives research associate who has studied the circuitous history of the chair, thinks there was another reason: Belote, the son of Maryland slave owners, was not fond of Lincoln. He was happy to see the chair go.
In the spring of 1929, Blanche Ford's son George collected the chair. That December it was on the auction block, selling for $2,400 to Israel Sack, a Boston antiques dealer who conveyed it to Henry Ford for his new museum.
"This is the chair that embodies a transformative moment in time for America and indeed the world," said Christian Overland , vice president of the Henry Ford museum.
"It kind of is like the one that got away," Daniels said.
I have read that the Smithsonian as well as the Ford Theater has asked numerous times for the chair for their own respective museums. Of course, the Henry Ford Museum has always responded in the same way - a resounding "no."
Think about it: if you were the curator of such a museum, would you let this piece of Americana go? The Henry Ford Museum has also painstakingly restored the chair in 1999 and placed it in a temperature-controlled environment to ensure its longevity for generations to come.
I believe my favorite part of the museum...well...it's a tie between the carriages and buggy department and the furniture exhibit.
The Buckboard from 1885
The Chaise from 1870
And the Concord Coach - great for travelling - from 1865
Of course, the area with the trains is truly spectacular, too:
The Dewitt Clinton from 1831
The Sam Hill from 1858
and the gigantic Allegheny from 1941
The variety of items in this museum continually astound me.For instance, they can actually say "George Washington slept here" - well, not in the museum itself, but they do have his camping bed and other supplies from 1770 belonging to our soon to be 1st President!
How cool is this?
And then there's a wonderful piece of mid-20th century that one rarely sees any more - Lamy's Diner from the 1940's
By the way, this diner is supposed to be open for business - yes, selling lunch - in 2012. I'm looking forward to it!
Please see the description of this wonderfully interesting cupboard below the picture.
(The following information came from The Henry Ford site. I found it fascinating in that it brought this beautiful piece of furniture to life):
We believe that Hannah Barnard was born in the late 17th century, probably in Hadley, Massachusetts. She was 31 (a "spinster") when she married John Marsh in 1715 and died shortly thereafter giving birth to her daughter, Abigail. We believe that this was Hannah's "marriage" or "dower" chest--a fairly expensive piece of furniture she received or had made specifically to be brought into her new household. Her press cupboard stored precious household linens which were time-consuming to make, and may have held silver or ceramics in the upper portions.
The colorful hearts, petal flowers, vines, and half-circles are characteristic of a number of "Hadley-chests" made around Hadley, Massachusetts nearly three centuries ago. Six of them include women's names painted on the front, such as this. It is unusual for a piece of furniture to be decorated with anyone's name, much less a woman's. Why was her name put on the front?
We're not sure. Perhaps, after thirty years as a Barnard, did Hannah not want to forget her family name as she entered into marriage with Mr. Marsh? Or did it mark the fact that Hannah was well aware that while women could not inherit property, they could inherit moveable furniture? Did she ask that her name be painted there? Or was she surprised and embarrassed when she received it from her family or her betrothed?
We can only speculate. What we do know is that it is one of the few pieces of furniture that we can say was made for, and used by a woman.
The Hannah Barnard press cupboard is currently on display in the Fully Furnished exhibit in Henry Ford Museum.
What a neat story about one who would have otherwise been lost to history. Who would have thought that a simple court cupboard would come with so much emotion attached. And that truly is what is attached: the presence and emotion from someone who lived over 300 years ago. At least, that's what I feel when I stand in front of it. Yeah...maybe I am a little crazy, but it's the only way I can explain it.
As I said, I never cease to be amazed at the amount of American history found here inside this awesome museum - and to think that Greenfield Village is right next door!!
I plan to do future postings on other wonderful historical objects that are displayed inside this world of Americana.
This past weekend was bitter-sweet. Sweet because one of the best Civil War reenactments of the year had taken place. Bitter because it was the last of the big reenactments in these parts til next May. From here on out it's smaller - but still wonderful - living history events.
Wolcott Mill is a beautifully restored grist and feed mill built back in 1847 and is located in the northern rural portion of Macomb County here in Michigan. With plenty of trees and land surrounding it, it is a fine spot for a reenactment, especially during the autumn time of year; the leaves on the trees were spectacular - I love the early fall because there are still green leaves mixed in with the golds and reds making for a more colorful display. This year the daytime temperatures reached 80 degrees while the nighttime lows went down to the 40's with no rain in sight.
And it's this fall spectacle that makes the Wolcott Mill event that much more special.
It also helped that members of both units I belong to - the 21st Michigan and the Michigan Soldiers Aid Society - all camped together in the same row...er, street. Both groups are top notch at living history but we also enjoy playing a little as well. Just like our ancestors, we like to have some fun, too!
For instance, Mrs. Root put together a puppet show for the evening lantern walk of a play that was written in the 1850's. She had the young ones in our group as the puppeteers and allowed them to provide the voices as well. The lantern walk crowd loved it, and I have to admit (maybe because one of the puppeteers was my daughter) that they were very good!
I mention quite frequently how proud I am of the two groups I belong to for they take living history a step further than most other groups. This year we had a tinsmith and a gunsmith showing the visitors their talents in their crafts. Our tinsmith spent the better part of Saturday making a new lantern while the gunsmith was meticulously carving intricate patterns into the wood of the rifle, not unlike the gunsmiths of long ago.
The tinsmith and gunsmith explain to their respective crowds how they work their crafts
We also had our own surgeon return after a year's hiatus, and he explained - in his 1860's style live 'power point' presentation of which included period tools of the trade - what surgery was like during the 1860's. It helps that he's a doctor in his modern day profession!
I've been expanding my presentation as a postmaster. Yes, I still speak of the importance of the mail during the time of the Civil War and show folks replica 1860's stationary, but I have taken it into another level. For instance, there are times when I will look up from reading my Harper's Weekly (yes, I do read them!) and there will be a large group of visitors standing before me, gawking at my 'post office' set up.
"Oh my," I exclaim as I see the crowd, "did the stage arrive earlier than expected? How was your journey?" And then off I go speaking of stage coach traveling and tavern adventures, using real history to accent my delivery. If there are children within the group I like to speak to them about the chores they would have had if they were living "back then," such as emptying the chamber pots and trimming oil lamp wicks & adding more oil to them, as well as other chores the under ten crowd would have had.
A few of us went out for a strollon a beautiful autumn day
And then I'll ask if anyone was expecting a letter, which will then lead into the importance of mail for the boys fighting the rebellion and for those of us on the home front to hear how that our sons are okay. This time of year, of course, I'll question the folks on how well their harvest was this season. The people tend to enjoy being included in such a way and hearing of their lives 150 years ago.
Yeah, and we can act a bit goofy sometimes, too. It's been brought up how the Wicked Witch of the East wore the same kind of socks that our Civil War ladies wear; remember when the house fell on her and her legs literally curled up and disappeared? Here's a photo (no, I didn't take this one!) to rekindle your memory, just in case:
Well, guess what we did...but only with a tent? We've talked about it for years but seemingly always forgot to actually recreate this scene.
Here, check out the photos I took shortly before tear down of the tent falling upon the Wicked Witch of the East:
Like I said, we tend to go off the deep end sometimes (and you folks thought I was such a serious bloke!).
So now the main part of the reenacting season has ended. But I still have an 1860's ball, a period dress meeting, multiple Christmas living history scenarios, the 21st Michigan period Christmas gathering, and performing with Simply Dickens to carry me through the rest of 2011.
The time-traveling continues...
~Updated in June 2017~ In the good old colony days
When we lived under the king
Lived a miller and a weaver and a little tailor
Three jolly rogues of Lynne...
Back in time we go...to the 1700's...
in a colonial mood.
fact, I've been in a colonial mood quite often of late.
colonial, I don't necessarily mean the earliest years of our country's
founding, such as that period of the pilgrims from the 17th century, but,
rather, I hanker more for the time from around the first stirrings of the American Revolution (early 1760s) through roughly the end of the century, to about 1800.
I was a young lad in my teen years, the Bicentennial
celebrations celebrating the signing of the Declaration of Independence were in full swing; it seemed from the early 1970s through the end of 1976, wherever you turned there was
something being written about our colonial roots and the Revolutionary War, with the concentration being onthe year 1776, especially in the newspapers. And
the TV had bicentennial programming here and there as well - does anyone else
remember "Bicentennial Minute"? But, with me "coming out of the
womb into history" (my mother's own words - not mine) I also loved to read
books that were about the 18th century. A particular favorite was The Cabin Faced West by
Jean Fritz, which gave a pretty accurate account of everyday life in the
wilderness that eventually became western Pennsylvania ca 1780's. I remember
being a kid and pretending that I was living with the Hamilton family: our dank and dark
basement 'became' the cabin (and it had a real fireplace to boot, which made it
all the more "real" in my mind), and the over-grown brush behind our
garage was the frontier.
had a great time!
Did I make it? Am I really in the 1770s?
Until fairly recently, this colonial infatuation that I've had at the
forefront of my historical thoughts of late seemed to lay dormant for quite a while - since the 1990s.My interests at that time moved to the 1860s and, finding there were plenty more opportunities to study and reenact the Civil War, I spent many years entrenched in that period. But there was a blog I
used to follow (which has since been taken down), that was mostly about 17th and 18th century life - author Mary
and her husband Adam truly seem to live history, and she had posted
literally hundreds of photos of their excursions to the past (they can still be found HERE at their antique store).
there is that wonderful HBO mini-series about our 2nd President and his wife...you know...the one about John Adams.
believe both the website and the John Adams mini-series are a part of the
catalyst for the resurgence of my more recent colonial passions.
that catalyst propelled me from Civil War reenacting right into Revolutionary
War reenacting. Yes, I now time-travel to both eras on weekends, experiencing,
to an extent, life as it was so long ago. Almost in the way I did while I pretended to live with the Hamiltons - isn't adulthood wonderful? You see, as passionate as I am about
the mid-19th century, I am every bit as passionate about our colonial heritage
as well - more so, in fact - and feel that too much from this period in time is no longer being
taught to our school children as strongly as it should be.
is so much to learn, however...and I would like to think of this posting as a
start on that journey to the past, to bring back a time that too many in our modern society have forgotten about.
There are many many photos, and even a few video clips, that go with the words herein to help get into the colonial mood. Won't
you come along with me for the ride?
something for starters - click the arrow on the following two video clips I took that tells a bit about life in an 18th century New England saltbox-style home to begin your journey:
And for reference purposes, let's begin our tour with a few photos of the homes we will
visit on our journey into this exciting time of our Nation's history. As you scroll through this post, we will be bopping back and forth throughout the houses pictured here:
A colonial scene at Greenfield Village: 1750 Daggett farmhouse on the left-center, Farris Windmill from the mid-1600s, and the early 1700s Plympton House on the right
The Giddings House: A city home from New Hampshire built around the same year as the Daggett Home - 1750. As you can see, Giddings is a bit more upscale than the others.
The formal parlor of Giddings House
The McGuffey Birthplace:
typical log cabin of western Pennsylvania built around 1780 - the same
time and place as the Hamilton's from the book mentioned earlier. I imagine this is what their cabin may
have looked like.
The interior of the McGuffey Cabin.
All the comforts of home await inside the one-room McGuffey cabin
the bicentennial celebrations began to die down in the late 1970s and early '80s, this
southern part of Michigan in which I live slowly began to forget its colonial
past(clickDetroit - A True Colonial Cityfor
a little diatribe on this subject) and even almost skipped over the 19th
century (thank God for Civil War reenacting to keep it alive!) and began to, instead, concentrate
on the early part of the 20th century. The two historical open-air museums of
Greenfield Village and Crossroad Village used to have Colonial Weekends, but
both events have fallen by the wayside. Fortunately there are still a few
Revolutionary War reenactments here in Michigan, including Feast of the St. Claire,Mackinac Island,Kensington State Park,Historic Fort Wayne, and a few others.
have found it to be a great experience to reenact in the
colonial era. And to have
my wife join me adds to it enormously.
my kids like it, too!
Needlepoint at Giddings House
plus for colonial era 'buffs' and historians is knowing that Greenfield Village
has those few 18th century structures (pictured throughout this post)
transplanted on its grounds from other parts of the country, and they are all
grouped together in one area, which is nice because it gives visitors that
overall colonial feel. Though all of these buildings are almost always open to
the public, only one in this particular collection, the Daggett Saltbox-style
Farmhouse, is usually "alive" with period-dressed presenters for most
of the year. The Giddings House 'comes alive' during the fall harvest weekend and at
Christmas time, as does the McGuffey House (the Plympton House has a recording to listen to
upon entering). Needless
to say I spend much of my Village-visiting time inside all of the colonial
buildings there, just taking it all in, especially when I am in the clothing of
the period, which gives me a more personal experience. They also show the traditional craft and chores of candle dipping, hearth cooking, dyeing of spun wool by
way of bark, berries, and flower pedals, learning of the 18th century herbal garden, and winter preparations...being in
that setting...wow---just the whole wooden-ness of it all, you know?
Drying plants at Daggett House
what was done in the colonial times, including
spinning and dyeing, food preservation, mode of travel, and even dipping and
burning candles (as mentioned above), was still practiced throughout most of the 19th century, especially in the more rural areas. And we shall speak of these things momentarily. First I would like to give you a broader picture of the look of the time. You just saw a few photos of colonial houses, but what about the people that lived in them? More specifically, what they wore:
Even the well-to-do lady-of-the-house, such as Mehetable Giddings, would keep herself occupied when not entertaining guests
The clothing that
people wore in the past has the ability to fascinate and involve us as few
objects of their material culture do. For some, it is a wish to experience the
beautiful fabrics, elaborate decoration, and tactile qualities; experiences no
longer found in most of our own clothing. For others, it is a desire to
understand people from the past a little better; if we know such details as how
they dressed themselves in the morning, what it was like to wear coarse linen and woolen while working in a Virginia
tobacco field, or what it felt like to be laced into stays,
we might better understand the routine, human aspects of their
daily lives, which are so seldom revealed in the written records they left.
Yep - I
did it! I finally found a way to travel through time to the 1770s! Here I am
in my colonial clothing being greeted by Deborah and Dorothy Giddings! Such fine young ladies they are.
They pointed me toward the Daggett House...
...where I was warmly received by Samuel Daggett himself!
Inside the Daggett buttery: Pouring water into a leather bag to take with me out into the field.
Which is why many of us practice living history - so we can make an attempt to,
in a small way, experience what our ancestors did so long ago.
The clothing you see in this posting are, of course, replicas of the kind worn by those who
lived in the eighteenth century and, believe it or not, had much in common with us. Not only did
people back then respond to fashion, they also varied their garments based on the
activity and the formality of the occasion. The eighteenth-century words
"dress" and "undress" had meanings quite different from the
way we use the words today, though the basic concepts are still viable.
"Dress" clothing meant formal clothing with a different set of
conventions and accessories from "undress" or informal clothing. In
1775, for example, a woman could still don a pair of exaggerated side hoops, or
"panniers," to support her wide skirt for a dress occasion, while her
undress clothing, although it would appear quite formal to our eyes, had a more
modest skirt size that may not have needed hoops at all.
Giddings House: check out panniers that Heidi (or is it Mary Giddings?) is wearing!
Similarly, the clothes
in which a wealthy planter conducted his daily business differed significantly
from what he wore to a ball at the Governor's Palace. The garments worn by a
blacksmith, for instance, or even a female dairymaid for their daily work were different from their best outfits,
reserved for Sundays at church and infrequent special occasions.Working
class and yeomen (farmers) dressed in ordinary work clothes: they were
clean-shaven with long hair worn straight or pulled back in a queue
(ponytail tied with a ribbon - a style for middling class men as well)
beneath one of a variety of hats, including soft caps,
felt hats with cut-down floppy brims, and the popular cocked hat (better known in modern times as a tricorn hat), while the younger men wore their
hair with a lock in front of each ear, known as earlocks, fastened with
elegant pins. They wore baggy linen or cotton shirts &
waistcoats, and their breeches came down and fastened below the knee,
with long stockings and cowhide shoes ornamented by large buckles. The infamous cocked hat became popular throughout the last half of the eighteenth century. Since I am portraying a middle class (or "middling") man, it is this this style that I choose to wear.
Springtime plowing is at hand...
The concepts of comfort and modesty
have always been relative and subject to the influence of fashion and the needs
of the occasion. Like us here in the 21st century, eighteenth-century people needed clothing for warmth
and comfort, but they quickly abandoned those needs if fashion or the occasion
Time for milking...
During much of the eighteenth century, women's
skirts were long and the sleeves covered the elbows; yet a woman would readily
push up her sleeves and hike up her petticoats while doing laundry or working
in the dairy, and, when fashion dictated it, women would shorten their skirts
to the ankles, as many did in the 1780s. Someone who had worn stays (the 18th
century version of a corset) from girlhood might scarcely have questioned their
comfort or lack of it. (And who is to say that stays were any more
uncomfortable than pointed-toe, high-heeled twentieth-century shoes?)
Speaking of shoes...
Shoes were essential to people who walked as much as the colonials did.
1758 fashion shoes for men replicated directly from originals found after being sealed in mud for over 200 years. Yes, they are straight-lasted.
Most shoes were straight-lasted - made to fit either foot (no right or left shoe) - and actually matched the bone structure of the foot better than shoes made to be right or left. They were generally made of leather with a thick, heavy sole, which provided good upper-foot support. It wasn't until around the turn of the 18th century that the use of buckles began. Buckles, which did cost a bit of money, were small at first then grew in size and generally fluctuated in size throughout the hundred years or so of popularity (some of the more common folk tended to wear laced shoes, though they may have buckles for their dress shoes). Mules were also popular during this time; mules were the equivalent of today's slippers.
Since slavery is a subject that is covered extensively throughout thousands of books and even more web sites, I would like to speak here, instead, more about the "hired" help. In the 18th century, formal indentured servants and apprenticeships were quite common, and the responsibility of the employers was to not only to provide adequate food and clothing, but the education for the worker as well. But among more prosperous families, girls from less fortunate families were hired to assist with certain aspects of the household duties. They came with the expectation that in addition to their room and board they would receive modest cash wages or store credits as well as a thorough instruction in reading and housekeeping. Hired girls usually dressed in simple, practical work clothes during the day. "The dress of those girls consisted of a gown of stuff or calico, with a high-necked and long-sleeved tire which completed the costume. Their hair was cut short or parted neatly and out behind their ears. Bangs and fringes were unknown in those days and would not have been tolerated for a minute."
At the more upscale Giddings home, the servant girl prepares her mistress's tea.
It was custom for young girls to enter families to be initiated into the work of a house, and it was not uncommon for them to remain until they were married, and sometimes for their whole lives. And the hired girls usually built a strong bonding relationship with her mistress, garnering mutual respect and affection. The hired girl would often be considered a part of the family.
But this wasn't always the case, for Sarah Anne Emery recalled seeing girls "going to the pump in mid-winter, clad only in a homespun short gown and petticoat, with slipshod shoes, disclosing huge holes in the heels of their stockings, and an old hood tied over their tangled hair."
October 1776 Ran away on Saturday the
12th instant, from the subscriber, an Irish girl named Judith Kennedy,
about five feet three inches high, near twenty-seven years of age, is
tolerable genteel, pock marked, black hair, and has something of the
brogue. She had on, when she went away, a red and white calico short
gown, a green shirt, brown cloak, black spotted silk bonnet lined with
white, and an old pair of black satin shoes. She also took with her a
changeable mantua gown, white dimity petticoat, a fine flowered apron,
one check ditto, and two shifts.
And another from October 1773: Run
away the 24th of October, from the subscribers in Philadelphia, two
Dutch bound servants, a man and a woman; the man's name is Justus
Hornschier, a shoemaker by trade, about 5 feet 7 or 8 inches high, pock
marked, has got but one eye; had on when he went away, a blue coat and
jacket, and buckskin breeches. The woman's name is Catherine Mum, but it
is likely she may alter it to that of the man's, and that they will
pass for man and wife; she is about 5 feet high, slender bodied, talks
or knows very little English; had on and took with her when she went
away, a calico short gown, a green camblet gown, two striped camblets
petticoats, a Dutch chintz jacket, one white and some ozenbrig aprons, a
black bonnet, a white cloth short cloak with a hood to it. Whoever
takes up the said servants, and confines them in any gaol, so that their
masters may have them again, shall have Three Pounds reward for both,
or for the maid alone Forty-five shillings, and all reasonable charges
Tea time at the Giddings House.
Let's hear more about the tea by clicking below:
Climate also had a significant effect
on clothing. In the sultry climate of Virginia many, even the upper classes,
chose washable linen or cotton clothing for informal wear. A traveler in the
early 1730s described the summer clothing of Virginians: "In Summertime
even the gentry goe Many in White Holland [linen] Wast Coat and drawers and a
thin Cap on their heads and Thread stockings [knitted linen]. The Ladyes Strait
laced in thin Silk or Linnen. In Winter [they dress] mostly as in England and
affect London Dress and wayes." During the hot summer months, men
often wore unlined coats and thin waistcoats of cotton or linen fabrics.
Advising his brother about what to wear when he attended the College of William
and Mary, Stephen Hawtrey wrote, "Your Cloathing in summer must be as thin
and light as possible for the heat is beyond your conception . . .your Cloth suit
unlined may do for the Month of May, but after that time you must wear the
thinnest Stuffs that can be made without lining. some people . . . wear brown
holland [linen] Coats with lining –some Crape –You must carry with you a Stock
of Linnen Waistcoats made very large and loose, that they may'nt stick to your
hide when you perspire."
Back at the Daggett home, there is little time for clothing concern. No idle hands here!
Doctoring - caring for ill family members - usually fell on the wife/mother. She may have learned her skills from her own mother, or she might have had the pamphlet "Every Man His Own Physician" from 1764 or something along those lines. In this little booklet,any cure for what ails youcould be found, and most remedies/medicine were grown in the back garden. For instance, if one had “a violent
head-ache, a weariness of the limbs, a pain in the loins, a coldness of the external
parts, a shivering and shaking, sometimes so much as to make the very bed shake
under them,” there is a good chance they may have the fever (or Ague).
According to this pamphlet, the “Method
of Curing” would be “First vomit the sick person, by giving half a drachm of
the powder of Ipecacoanha, and work it off with Chamomile tea; then let the
sick person take the following powder:
Of the best Peruvian bark powder’d,
one ounce, of Virginia Snake root, and salt of wormwood, each one drachm; mix
these well together, and divide them into eight doses, one paper to be taken
every two hours in a glass of red wine or any other liquid. This is a certain
and infallible cure; but care must be taken to administer it only in the
intervals of the fits…”
From the excellent docu-drama about Martha Ballard called "A Midwife's Tale"
One woman in particular from the
colonial period kept a journal of her daily activities, which included
doctoring. She was a local mid-wife in a small village in main in the late 18th
century, and being as such was also the local practitioner. Her diary has been
published and even made into a docu-drama by PBS. Her name? Martha Ballard. She
wrote in her diary nearly every day from January 1, 1785 to May 12, 1812 (27
years) for a total of almost 10,000 entries. Her diary is an unparalleled
document in early American history.
Here is a minute example of some of
August 10, 1787 – At Mrs. Howards.
Her son very sick. Capt Sewall & Lady sett up till half after 4. Then I
rose. The child seems revived.
August 12, 1787 – At Mrs.
McMasters. Their son very sick. I set up all night. Mrs. Patin with me. The
Child very ill indeed.
August 13, 1787 – William McMaster
Expired at 3 O’Clock this morn. Mrs. Patin and I laid out the Child. Poor
mother, how Distressing her Case, near the hour of Labour and three Children
more very sick. I sett out for home.
November 1, 1792 – I was Calld to
see Mrs. Hodges at 4 h pm. Shee was safe delivered at 11 h Evening off a very
fine son her sixth child.
Another thing I noticed when reading the hundreds of runaway 'advertisements' is
something we rarely hear of or see at reenactments (for realism, I
suppose) is how many folks were smitten with "the Pox." Numerous descriptions of runaways note pox marks upon the faces of those missing.
of the things I hope to accomplish in colonial reenacting is to
surround myself with those who take it as serious as I do by not only dressing and acting as
authentic as possibleand utilizing our knowledge of the period, but by way oflanguage usage as well. I mean, the 1860's verbiage is challenging enough at Civil War reenactments,
so I can just imagine making the attempt to speak as they did 250 years
ago. I have
heard, for instance, that they used to pronounce the "K" in words such as know
(as "k-no") and knife (as "k-nife"), but I don't know for
sure...maybe some of you etymologists can help me on this. However, there is a wonderful book available - Eighteenth Century English as a Second Language - that the presenters in Colonial Williamsburg use as a guide, and I plan to use it as well. It doesn't answer all of my questions, but it is a period language bible in my mind. The docu-drama, A Midwife's Tale, does a remarkable job in presenting the later 1700s verbiage, as does the John Adams HBO series which includes a bit of a British accent in their words.
The way our forefathers and foremothers wrote in letters, diaries, and broadsides is the key.
Speaking of writing, American
colonial handwriting and printing looks strange to us. Why did they use all
those f's instead of s's?
Hey! Dad thinkS he
KnowS about the 'long s. '
Oh wait – he doeS!
you want to imitate colonial handwriting from the 18th century, or make a
colonial handbill or sign, then using those funny f's correctly is the most
obvious thing that will make your handwriting or printing look like it's from
the 18th Century.
letter that looks like an "f" actually is called a "long
s." In colonial printing fonts, you can tell it from a printed
"f" because the little cross-bar is only on the left-hand side, or
isn't there at all. In colonial handwriting, the "long s" is written
like an "f," except the bottom loop is written clockwise instead of
"long s" wasn't used randomly. Here are the rules for when to use it,
so your handwriting or printing will look like authentic colonial handwriting.
the "long s" at the beginning and middle of words, but use the
regular "s" for the last letter of a word.
there are two s's together, use the "long s" for the first one and
the regular "s" for the second one. Use the regular "s"
before and after the letter "f" (the real letter "f"!) Use
the regular "S" whenever the "S" is uppercase.
Not only is this an original example of the
colonial style of writing (including the "long s"), but it also gives another wonderful description of clothing (from the excellent book "Wenches, Wives, and Servant Girls" by Don N. Hagist).
It seems through all of my research on any historical era, one thing
that has not changed over these past few hundred years is that life
then, as now, tended to center around the kitchen. But, oh! how life in
the kitchen has changed!
Whereas so many in our modern day eat frozen dinners or
will go out to a local fast food joint, the kitchen during colonial
times was the heart of the home. When Betsy Phelps, who was visiting friends in Boston, wrote to her mother in Hadley in August 1797, she spoke fondly of the family meal: "Now I fancy you are eating dinner assembled round that jovial table - partaking of a wholesome repast - it makes my mouth water - as the saying is, to think of it - good fatt meat - with green sauce is too delicious." "The kitchen in all the farmhouses of
all the colonies was the most cheerful, homelike, and picturesque room
in the house; indeed, it was in town houses as well. "
"Preparing colonial food was not simply a matter of making ingredients palatable," Ann Chandonnet writes in her book, Colonial Food, "it also required a staggering range of skills: chopping kindling, keeping a fire burning indefinitely, plucking feathers from fowl, butchering animals large and small, cosseting (caring for) bread yeast, brewing beer, making cheese, adjusting 'burners' of coals on a hearth and gauging the temperature of a bake oven. There were related skills, too, such as milking, grinding corn, fermenting vinegar, pulverizing sugar, drying damp flour, and recycling stale bread."
Chandonnet continues, "The housewife's universe spiraled out from hearth and barnyard to tending a kitchen garden and perhaps a large vegetable garden, as well as assisting with the grain harvest.
Preserving methods were limited to drying, smoking, pickling, and salting, so the cold months of the year saw a more limited diet than warm months."
What people chose to eat and how they cooked their meals was what they considered to be edible and familiar. Colonists cooked many dishes from memory and experience, eventually acquiring an 'American' character, and they certainly encountered new foods which, in some cases, came from the local Indians."
Working in the Daggett garden
Let's visit the Daggett kitchen and see what's cooking:
Though cookbooks did exist, most colonial women cooked many dishes without the use of one; they learned from their mothers how to make the everyday foods that the majority of people in their area ate, therefore, unless the dish to be served was for a special occasion or an important guest, it was done by memory as she was taught.
In a colonial homestead, a circuit-riding preacher might be served a chicken pie, a mess of greens, and sweet apple dumplings. Of course, to prepare such a meal the housewife would have to first "pick and clean six chickens, (without scalding), take out their inwards and wash the birds while whole, then joint the birds, salt and pepper the pieces and inwards..." (from The First American Cookbook, originally printed in 1796 as AMERICAN COOKERY, or The Art of Dressing Viands, Fish, Poultry and Vegetables by Amelia Simmons.
Daggett House kitchen
Colonial cooking was dominated by fireplace technology; in the kitchen it was the massive fireplace that was the center of it
all. And, of course, all of the necessary cooking tools to go with it:
"A nest of iron pots of different sizes, a long iron fork to take out
articles from boiling water, an iron hook with a handle to lift pots
from the crane, a large and small gridiron with grooved bars and a
trench to catch the grease, a dutch oven (or bake pan), two skillets of
different sizes, a skimmer, skewers, a toasting iron, two tea kettles -
one small and one large, a spider (or flat skillet) for frying, a
griddle, a waffle iron, tin and iron bake and bread pans, two ladles of
different sizes, two brass kettles of different sizes for soap boiling,
&c." (From Miss Catherine Beecher).
Daggett House - cooking on the hearth
Most cooking fireplaces were equipped with a suspension system for the
large pots and kettles. An iron crane that could be swung out toward the
room to check on the contents of the pots and kettles was also mounted
inside of the chimney. By raising or lowering the pots to adjust the
distance between them and the fire, or by moving the crane forward into
the room, cooking temperatures could be adjusted.
Daggett House kitchen
One must remember, however, that most young folks did not go into 'housekeeping' with all of this iron cookware. Many would have only the basics - a small kettle, a spider, and a ladle - to begin with, and would accumulate the rest over time.
By the way, what we call pot holders here in the 21st century were originally called kettle-holders. Pot holders then were the metal stand suspension equipment designed to hold pots off of the ground mentioned above. (Thanks to Stephanie Ann at World Turned Upside Down for this pot/kettle holder information).
Giddings kitchen and servant girl
Now would be a good time to hear from the Giddings hired servant girl and listen as she tells about her life in the home:
The importance of not allowing the fire to go out cannot be overstated. It was quite a chore to get another going; since there were no matches in colonial times it was very difficult to get a fire started from scratch. To do so required striking flint rock against steel to create sparks into tinder. Tinder was anything that would ignite easily - usually strips of linen or paper thin strips of wood. These items would have been kept inside a tin or metal tinderbox. In the previously mentioned book The Cabin Faced West the fire did go out and young Anne Hamilton was at a loss of what to do:
'As soon as she stepped inside, she had a sinking feeling in the bottom of her stomach. She had forgotten about the fire. Quickly she ran over to the hearth and sank down on her knees before a pile of black ashes and a half-burned log. In desperation she blew into the fireplace, hoping to revive a hidden spark. Ashes flew out into the room and up in her face, but there wasn't a tiny glow of red anywhere. She looked at the tinderbox beside the fireplace with its piece of steel and flint. She had never made a fire from the beginning.She walked back and forth in the cabin, holding the baby while she talked to herself."Maybe I could borrow some. But if I went down the hill to Uncle John's, I'd have to take the baby. It wouldn't be so bad going, but coming back, carrying the baby and a pot of fire - I don't know if I could manage." '
Just for a fire...imagine...(by the way, young Miss Hamilton did eventually head down to her uncle's place to 'borrow' fire. But something very interesting happened on the way...
The Cabin Faced West is really a fine book on colonial life - you should get it, even if it is for young kids).
Needless to say, between breakfast, dinner, and the evening supper meal, it was in the colonial kitchen that most of the activity of all types took place, besides the cooking. In the wintertime, it was also the warmest room in the home. But even with the fire going all day, on extremely cold winter days the kitchen fire might not be able to warm the adjacent rooms, and more than one family found themselves literally living in that one room for weeks on end, including sleeping.
And this would make a fine time to segue into a mythbuster: let's dispel the myth that "people were shorter back then."
No they weren't.
Well, maybe slightly...like about an inch or so. But the myth that the average height of a colonist was 5'4" or whatever is just that - a myth. Just like today, people came in all shapes and sizes.
"But the ceilings were so low and the beds were so small!"
The ceilings (and doorways) were lower to retain the heat from fireplaces in the cold months - this is a proven fact. I needn't go further on this.
So, you think the doorways were shorter in 1760 because the people were smaller? Think again!
As for the beds being smaller, I finally found a very sound answer in an article by Tess Rosch in the June 2013 issue of Early American Life magazine. In fact, it's a photo I took while at Greenfield Village that is featured in the article!
"According to measurements taken of Revolutionary War soldiers compared with recruits from the 1950's, the modern soldier is actually only about 2/3 of an inch taller. Our current soldiers could blend in quite easily with George Washington's recruits."
Rosch also pointed out research done on antique bedding owned by Colonial Williamsburg:
"Since there were no standardized beds until the Industrial Revolution, that should prove revealing. No bed was shorter than 6'3" and many were 6'8" long, the same length as today's 'king'!"
But why do the beds look so short?
"Optical illusion!" writes Rosch.
With all of the posts, testers, drapery, canopies, etc., that surrounded the bed vertically, it made them look smaller horizontally.
Giddings House bed chamber
Here's the article as was written in Early American Life. Yes, they used MY picture!
was a photo that I took of Larissa and Russ from the 1750's Daggett
Farm. I asked her to portray a nagging wife while I took the picture. It goes with the picture above. If you look closely to the right you can read my name as credit.
This research also refutes the myth that colonials had a tendency to sleep sitting up:
taking all of this into account, and considering the other myths
that have been dispelled, I have to agree with the proof that our
colonial ancestors slept in the same horizontal position that we do
today. I think what I enjoy most in having Early American Life magazine use my photo is being associated with Greenfield Village - and with American history in general - which is
something I take great pride in. And now with this issue of Early American
Life I accomplished both; Tess Rosch needed a
photograph to accent her story, so while reading one of my blog postings she came
across a picture she thought would work well.
So there you go - my passion for history, Greenfield Village,
and even my love of photography all rolled into one!
I'm pretty proud!
Daggett House parlor and bed chamber
The Daggett formal parlor from the opposite angle.
Daggett House parlor peaking in from a window.
Here's a clip explaining the formal parlor at the Daggett farm:
Mrs. Daggett looks for her husband to return.
Upon my own visitation to the Daggett farm I have also witnessed the carding, spinning, and dyeing of wool.
It's here at
Daggett where one can watch as the raw wool being carded by use of
paddles before actually being spun into yarn (unless you have
a wife like I have who also spins on the large walking wheel as well as a
Saxony wheel). As this process is done, the presenter explains every
step, from the twisting of the wool onto the bobbin, to plying two
single bobbins of thin thread to make one stronger thread, to winding
the finished thread into a skein by using a yarn winder (also known as a
clock reel) or on a niddy noddy.
Here is a video clip of the spinning process:
to author Alice Morse Earle in her wonderful book, Home Life in Colonial
Days, The wool
industry easily furnished home occupation to an entire family. Often by the
bright firelight in the early evening every member of the household might be
seen at work on the various stages of wool manufacture or some of its necessary
adjuncts, and varied and cheerful industrial sounds fill the room.
member of the family played an important role to keep the household running
like a well-oiled wheel.
grandmother, at light and easy work, is carding the wool into fleecy rolls. The
mother, stepping as lightly as one of her girls, spins the rolls into woolen
yarn on the great wheel. The oldest daughter sits at the clock-reel, whose
continuous buzz and occasional click mingles with the humming rise and fall of
the wool-wheel, and the irritating scratch, scratch, scratch of the cards. A
little girl at the small wheel is filling quills with woolen yarn for the loom,
not a skilled work. The father is setting fresh teeth in a wool card, while the
boys are whittling hand-reels and loom spools.
wife has found carding and especially spinning to her liking and it has become
a relaxing part of her day.
skeins could then be washed before use.
large walking wheels were very common in colonial homes. The fiber is held in
the left hand and the wheel slowly turned with the right. This wheel is then
good for using the long-draw spinning technique, which requires only one active
hand most of the time, and can free a hand to turn the wheel.
The walking wheel in action
spinner begins to slowly turn the drive wheel clockwise with the right hand,
while simultaneously walking backward and drawing the fiber in the left hand
away from the spindle at an angle. The left hand must control the tension on
the wool to produce an even result. The process is continuously repeated. Thus
the name "walking wheel."
Here's another short video of the Daggett Farm walking wheel being used:
The ladies of the Daggett house enjoy a well-deserved break from spinning
But break times in the Daggett home were few and quick. Back to work, for "idle hands are the devil's workshop."
Preparing to dye wool...
Outside in the yard a large vat of water is boiled over a fire pit. This is part of the process of having spun wool dyed to a variety of colors. The women of the family would hunt through fields and woods for flowers, leaves, and bark to dye their wool, crushing walnut shells for brown, goldenrod blossoms for yellow, and roots of the madder plant for red.
The ingredients were boiled in water until the liquid becomes the
desired shade, then skeins of yarn were simmered in the vat of dye.
From sheep to shawl and then some!
Here is a run-down of what the folks
at Daggett use for their presentation (from a Daggett Farm presenter):
Brown~black walnuts. The walnuts have to
be allowed to rot, the longer they rot the darker brown you will get.
Blue~the best dye for this is Indigo. There is a plant
called woad that could be used but it is highly invasive.
Yellow~ The inner bark from the osage orange tree works, but the
easiest to find is calendula petals. Some people call the flower a pot marigold
Green~ the best way to get green is an over dye of blue and yellow. Dye
the yarn yellow first and then dip it in the blue.
Red~The cochineal beetle gives the best reds. With these a little goes a
Pink~Pokeberry (it's nice that these can be used for something as the
seeds of this plant are toxic) Daggett has one of these plants in the garden.
Orange~Madder root. The madder plant needs to be taken out and the root
actually broken open (it will appear bright orange) I believe there is also a
madder plant at Daggett.
Black~This is an over dye of logwood and black walnut.
Before dyeing any wool yarn it needs to soak in a mordant; Alum is the one
that is used at Daggett. As with washing the wool one has to use the same temperature water and not
stir or agitate it or it will felt.
Also these items get tied up in
cheesecloth so that nothing sticks to the yarn.
Here is a short video clip of the wool dyeing process:
The dyed wool...
I find that old "idle hands are the devil's workshop" proverb fascinating, for throughout the colonial period it seems that there has always been little time for frivolity and relaxation; they were always busy doing something or another. The saying has its roots in the bible, and since the colonists as a whole were a religious sort, they followed the biblical teachings and principles as best they could.
Knowing this, an answer that I found on Got Questions.org opened my eyes further to the ways and even the thought process of our colonial ancestors: "Though the statement is not found verbatim
in the Bible, “idle hands are the devil’s workshop” has its roots in
Scripture. The apostle Paul notes that those who waste their time in
idleness or in a non-productive manner are easily led into sin: “We hear
that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies”(2 Thessalonians 3:11).
By not using their time productively, these people were tempted to
meddle in other people’s business and stand in the way of their
progress. “They get into the habit of being idle and going about from
house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to” (1 Timothy 5:13). These idlers and busybodies were wasting time that could have been used
to help others. In essence, their lack of activity was leading them
into sin. And now let's think of all the time we spend on Facebook and Twitter..."idle hands" indeed!
To learn more about entertaining your 18th century friends inside the Giddings home, click the clip:
The Giddings formal parlor
The Giddings formal parlor
The Giddings formal parlor
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
One of the essential skills
throughout the colonial period was brewing beer for family use. Diaries of
rural housewives reveal that they baked and brewed on the same day with both
activities requiring yeast. But brewing also depended on barley (grain) for
malting, and hops for flavor and fermenting. Much of the beer brewed in the
home was called “small” or “near beer” – that is, it had a low alcohol content
– and was consumed by both young and old. According to the book,Tidings From the 18th Centuryby
Beth Gilgun, it was considered dangerous to drink too much water so cider and
beer was served at meals. Small beer offered nourishment and kept the drinker
from being “feeble in the summer.”
learn in greater detail of the colonial brewing of beer, please watch the
following clip (sorry about the wind sound you hear - it was a windy day!):
Here's another beer brewing clip:
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
make thine owne candle,
pennie to handle.
for thy tallow, ere frost cometh in.
make thine owne candle, ere winter begin
Tusser - 16th century English poet)
Alice Morse Earle wrote, "The making of the winter's stock of candles was the special autumnal house-hold duty, and a hard one too, for the great kettles were tiresome and heavy to handle. An early hour found the work well under way."
An autumn tradition
In our modern times we think of the pre-electric light era as being very dark, with the nighttime homes lit by candles, as was generally done in the colonial era. By the mid-19th century, the much brighter oil lamps had a strong foothold in American society and candles began their fade as a necessity, although they were still in great use, especially in the more rural areas. And in the later 1800s candles did not necessarily need to be made at home anymore...one could go to the store and purchase them fairly cheaply instead of going through the whole process of making them in the way their fore-fathers did. However, I have read in numerous books citing diaries of many folks making their own candles well into the early part of the 20th century. In fact, in Farmer Boy, Laura Ingalls Wilder tells the tale of young Almanzo helping his mother make candles with a mold, and this was in the 1860s.
Artificial light in the 18th century was truly a luxury. People were used to working by daylight, so lighting a candle while the sun was up was rare. It was customary for folks to move from room to room to get the most out of the day's light. In most homes candles were lit only during the nighttime hours, and sparingly so, due to the lengthy candle-making process. According to one source, a typical middle class home in the 1750's would go through nearly 500 candles a year. And that may even be a conservative view - it would not be a surprise if many homes went through at least a third more than that!
Dipping candles was a top priority - does this family have enough for the coming dark months of winter?
Colonial women dipped candles - or used metal molds - as part of their domestic work. As you have read, Colonial homes were as self-sufficient as they could be and did their best to produce as many things needful to life as they could, and this did include candles. Candlemaking was not a fun hobby then as it is in our modern times — it was a labor assigned to the housewife and children. And a backbreaking, smelly, greasy task it was. For a long time, candles were made only of animal fat, and housewives collected every scrap after butchering and cooking of meats was completed. These precious fats were hoarded carefully, protected in covered crocks. At candlemaking time, the fat was melted down and the dipping process began.
Candle-making season was usually in
early-to-mid November. It had to be just cold enough for quick hardening, and
followed shortly after fall hunting, where the waist fat from the animals was
used to make tallow candles. The animal fat was cut into pieces and rendered
(melted). The fat was boiled, caked, pressed, sieved, and purified several
times. Wicks were made from cotton or, less often. from milkweed. The wicks
were dipped repeatedly into a tub of tallow, and with each dip the candles
became larger and larger until the desired length and width was had.
It's here that we can quote Susan Blunt, a woman from the early 19th century,
who remembered her 18th century mother candle dipping:
"Mother used to dip candles in the fall, enough to last all winter. When a
beef was killed in the fall, she would use all the tallow for candles. On the
evening before, we would help her prepare the wicks. The boys would cut a lot
of rods and she would cut the wicks the length of a candle and then string them
on the rods."
Ms. Blunt continues, "In the
morning she would commence her day's work. (She would) dip each one in the hot
tallow and straighten out the wicks so the candles would be straight when they
were finished. By raising the candles (out of the kettle) at just the right
speed and working on a day with a moderate temperature, the fine quality of the
candles would be assured. The candles would be cooled overnight and the bottom
ends cut off nearly. The finished candles were packed away in a mouse-proof
container for safe storage."
A candle lit McGuffey Cabin
Fortunately for early American women with the want to get them, there were candlemaking materials available; for instance, New England gave them bayberries, which have a heavenly scent — quite a change from the stinky animal-fat candles. Bayberries were introduced to the Colonial women by their Native American neighbors, who also showed them how to get the wax out of the berries. Another source of candle wax was beeswax, and many farm families raised bees, primarily for their honey and their pollination work, but also to get the sweet-smelling beeswax. Lucky was the Colonial farmer with a hive or two of bees! Some scented candles, such as
the above-mentioned bayberry candles (made during the late autumn when the berries were ripest),
burned slowly and gave off a fine incense, particularly when the candle was
Each morning it was the hired girl or one of the children's jobs to clean and
fit the candlesticks with new candles long enough to last an evening and then
stored in the kitchen, where they would be easy to find when darkness fell.
If there was a fire in the hearth that had been for cooking or for warmth, candles might not even be used; as long as one could see well enough to eat, spin, knit, whittle, or do any number of other duties by the light from the fireplace, a candle would be considered wasteful. I've also read that on a bright moonlit night, especially when there was snow covering the ground, the reflection of light from outside could be bright enough for one to read while indoors!
~ (The above candle information came from a variety of sources, including an on line source by M. J. Abadie, various books listed at the end of this posting, and from the presenters at Daggett) ~
McGuffey Cabin with camera flash. I like the softer candle-lit light better, don't you?
candles were far and away the most popular form of lighting (aside from the
hearth), Betty Lamps, commonly made of brass or iron, first came into being in
the 18th century and were occasionally used in a colonial home or
fish oil or fat trimmings for fuel and twisted wicks of cloth, they were the forerunner
of the oil lamp used later in the 19th and 20th
~ ~ ~
three main months of autumn - September, October, and November - is when the
fall harvest time takes place. What I hope to show here is not only the labor of these hard-working
people, but of the satisfaction our ancestors received for a job well done. The
fruits of their labor ensured their survival, and there was no time for
"sick days," nor did they have a "sick bank" to enter if
they felt 'stressed out' and needed time off to 'get their head together.'
If one didn't put their time in, they, and possibly others, didn't eat.
I am also hoping that the reader will find a deeper appreciation for the way
our ancestors lived and maybe even be enticed to grow their own kitchen garden
by way of non-gmo heirloom seeds.
would like to quote from Senior Manager of Creative Programs at Greenfield
Village, Jim Johnson, as I feel I cannot explain this aspect of harvest time
any better than what Mr. Johnson has written:
The Daggetts would have stored away
a variety of root vegetables in stone-lined pits that would have prevented hard
freezing for turnips, potatoes, beets and other similar vegetables. The earth
is a great insulator, especially a small hillside. These outside “root
cellars,” dug deep enough and lined with stone, provided the protection needed.
The stone lining not only insulates, but keeps the items stored away cleaner.
The wooden cover/door with added straw insulation made access throughout the
winter possible. A heavy layer of snow would further help to keep the storage
area from freezing. This would normally be in addition to the cellar of the
house, also used for food storage.
Cabbages would have been pulled
roots and all and also stored in similar ways. Pumpkins and other winter squash
would have been kept in house cellars or possibly garrets (attics), to prevent
freezing, allowing them to be used well into the winter months. Several other
root vegetables like parsnips and salsify would have just been kept in the
frozen ground of the garden and dug out as needed.
By this time of year, beans and peas
would have been dried and stored away in sacks in cool dry locations. Dried
peas and beans used in soups, stews, and baked bean dishes were simply left to
fully mature on their vines or stalks in the field. Once completely dry, they
were pulled by the roots and loaded into a cart or wagon and hauled back to the
barn. In some cases, the partially dried plants were attached to long poles
set-up in the field, once fully dried, the “bean” poles were hauled back to the
barn to await further processing. This allowed a nice compact way to store
Much like threshing grain (more on
this later), beans and peas were laid out on a flat surface, usually on
a tarp, and hit with a wooden flail (two lengths of wood connected by a leather
lace). The wooden flail would break apart the pods and loosen up the dried
beans or peas. Once loose from pods, the beans and peas were carefully scooped
up and then cleaned by a process called winnowing. Using the breeze, the bean
and peas were flipped up and down in a large shallow basket. The dust and
lighter debris would blow away leaving the beans or peas behind. Once clean,
they would be stored away in barrels or clean sacks. Dried green beans were
re-constituted and added to soups or stews in the winter and early spring when
nothing green was available.
With careful planning, all these
sorts of vegetables would carry over the family’s needs until the new summer
produce became available again. It’s no wonder that the first early greens from
the garden were so looked forward to after a winter of starchy root vegetables.
Early autumn harvest
The great thing about visit the Daggett farm throughout the fall, we can see the presenters harvesting and storing away a variety of garden produce.
especially apples, was another important food item carefully preserved for the
winter. The Daggetts had very limited technology when it came to “canning” as
we know it today. Fruit jams or preserves were kept in small crocks or glass
jars and sealed with bees wax, spirit soaked parchment, or animal bladders that
when tightly drawn over the jar opening, would dry and seal off the jar (they
were reusable). Lots of fruit was dried by slicing and lying out in baskets or
on wooden racks. Fresh fruit was carefully packed in barrels whole to keep in a
As autumn gave way to winter, darkness became king of the 24 hour day, and it dictated daily activities.
time sure looks cold to me, coming up around the bend, but the Daggett
Farm House has withstood nearly 300 years of winter weather! To learn
more about how our ancestors survived winter, click HERE
nighttime blackness reduced the once family-sized home into a single room in
many cases, for many families closed off the parlors to decrease the amount of
warming space. With a dim glow, life centered around the hearth or stove
for warmth and possibly a candle for any of the limited activities
of which they may have partaken.
The kitchen at Daggett: the hearth fire and candle flame for light to stave off the cold and night time darkness.
The light at it's brightest
Low level of light - - - A solitary candle to light the night - anymore thanthat would be wasteful.
the foreboding darkness cloaked the landscape, folks retreated to their abodes
to wait the liberating first morning light, many fearing ghosts, specters,
apparitions, and even criminals and other creatures of the night. A dim visual
world began where life centered around the flicker of a candle and, in cooler
weather, the warming flames of a hearth. This low level of lighting
created only pockets of brightness, leaving most of the room in darkness.
Forget about the Hollywood movies showing people enjoying a pleasant winter's
eve reading by candlelight - I've tried and it's pretty darn
difficult to do for any length of time. As Laura Wirt wrote in 1818, "writing
by a dim firelight. I can scarcely see." Activities were limited to things that
didn’t require the best vision, and storytelling – including Bible stories
& family history tales - were popular. But
it’s also said that the folks during the colonial-era could actually see better
in darkness than modern people can. Although I know of no scientific data to
back this, to me it makes sense; while our entire world is seemingly engulfed
in electric lighting, citizens of the 18th century lived in natural
light and darkness, for candles and the hearth give off little light, therefore
that sense of sight would naturally be stronger, wouldn’t it?
Working by the light of day or by candle light at night inside Daggett House. However sparingly, candles were still needed more often than not in the
nighttime hours. As one woman reminisced: "When evening came we used to
set a candle on a candle stand and pull the stand to the center of the
room so that four people could sit around it and see to work."
And Frederick Law Olmstead, in
1853, was chastised by the servant when he asked for a candle so that he might
write a letter (I am quoting it here the way it was originally written):
"Not if you hab a fire," the servant told him. "Can't you see by
da light of da fire? When a gentleman hab a fire in his room, dey don't count
he wants no mo' light 'n dat."
And that's all the light I need.
Two lanterns? Well...I brought one of my own, you see, so we could double the brightness.
cloak on, the cold will not be as bad. Yes,
these were called 'riding hoods' (as in “Little
Red”), and red was the most popular
color. In 1773, the ladies in Virginia were
described in this manner, “Almost every
lady wears a red cloak,” though not all
cloaks were red.
The coldness of the winter time was as tough for the good folks of the colonial era as we can imagine. Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States, commented in a letter to his friend John Adams that he "shudder(s) at the approach of winter, and wish I could sleep through it with the doormouse, and only wake with him in spring..."
with another person was a way to generate warmth in the bed chamber. From
earliest childhood, our ancestors had slept together – infants with their
parents, then with their siblings, cousins, or even friends, and then with
apprentices, or domestic help of the same sex. So used to sleeping with others
that sleeping partners were often sought out.
course, sleeping with a marriage partner was the most desirable way of keeping warm; in January
of 1775 Esther Burr wrote, "Pray what do you think everybody marrys in, or
about Winter for? 'Tis quite merry, isn't it? I really believe 'tis for fear of
laying cold, and for the want of a bedfellow. Well, my advice to such is the
same with the apostles, LET THEM MARRY---and you know the reason given by Him,
as well as I do---TIS BETTER TO MARRY THAN TO ______."
Plympton and Daggett - colonial neighbors surviving winter.
Beecher Stowe remembered her Aunt Lois setting a candle in their room and
“admiring the forest of glittering frost-work which had been made by our breath
freezing upon the threads of the blanket.” Using a long-handled
brass warming pan filled with the hot coals from the hearth was one way to warm
a bed before slipping in. It would be placed between the sheets and rubbed
along the length of the bed quickly and steadily, as to not spill the burning
coals. In this manner the bed would become sufficiently warm enough to climb
not everyone had this sort of warming luxury, for Mrs. Stowe recalled a family
taking their leave to "bed-chambers that never knew a fire, where the very
sheets and blankets seemed so full of stinging cold air that they made one's
fingers tingle; and where, after getting into bed, there was a prolonged
shiver, until one's own internal heat-giving economy had warmed through the
whole icy mass."
Stowe also warned that “whoever touched a door-latch incautiously in the early
morning received a skinning bit from Jack Frost,” while Harriet Martineau
recalled those winter mornings when even with a good hot coal fire in her
chamber stove “everything you touch seems to blister your fingers with cold.”
James Stuart found it “difficult to preserve the body in sufficient warmth,
even wrapped in two suits of clothes, and everyone kept on stockings and
flannel garments during the night."
ink froze in my pen in lifting it to the paper from an ink-horn, placed within
the fender in front of a good fire." - James Stuart
If the only light and heat comes from candles and fireplaces because of a
power outage at your house, it is frustrating and annoying -
it comes in the form of intimate tours of an 18th or 19th-century village,
charming and peaceful.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Family and friends gather together
gathering of neighbors was just as important in the colonial times as it is
today, and folks would come together for a number of different reasons. House
and barn raisings, for example, required a large amount of people - young and
old - and were often concluded with refreshments. Lively frolics would sometimes
follow such an activity and kept some up later than usual, keeping the next
day's chores, shall we say, impaired.
young folk preferred to frolic, and it was at the husking, quilting, and
apple-paring parties that were most fondly remembered due to the festivity of
the occasion as well as the opportunity for courtship. These were all
time-consuming tasks that could be easily divided among a large group of
people, giving ample time for getting to know one another a little better.
frolics, church socials...nearly any reason for the gathering of friends and,
at times, the mixing of couples, would be cause for a party, though they needed
to be organized and planned well ahead in order to prepare ample refreshments
and to make sure useful work could be accomplished.
frolics were not necessarily only for working; a "slaying frolic"
took place in York, Maine in 1792: "27 young men and women had an
entertainment after a Slaying Frolick and returned well."
author Jane C. Nylander wrote in Our Own Snug Fireside: "These
community rituals encompassed sanctioned forms of courtship behavior. By
combining them with work, people fulfilled their sense of duty and (mollified)
their guilt at entertaining for pure pleasure."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Preparing my horse for travel
in colonial America was hazardous and fatiguing. It is assumed
ordinary middling people traveled more than likely by foot to get from home to village and, in many cases, elsewhere as well. In rural areas, strangers
were welcomed into the homes of the locals where no tavern existed. Travelers
relied on word of mouth to find taverns for overnight lodging.
was an uncertainty and bad conditions could delay the best laid plans of any
traveler. William Palfrey wrote in 1773 of “a most tedious Journey occasion’d
by heavy Rains and high Winds which prevented my crossing the Ferries.”
traveled infrequently, most often under the protection of fathers, brothers,
husbands, or male escorts. A lone female traveler was a rarity, though not
unheard of. There is a story of a woman who showed up at a tavern alone one
evening and was asked by the keeper, “What in the world brings You here at this
time of night? I never saw a woman on the Rode so Dreadfull late in all the
days of my versall life.”
1778 Katherine Farham wrote about traveling alone: “I was in great distress,
but what could I do in a publick House, no person to take care of me?”
At the tavern...
at a tavern was generally fair, serving such delights as bread and
cheese, pigeon fricassee, roast fowl, pasties, and pie, all washed down
with a tankard or mug of cider. At times, however, the servings could be
rather awful. Sara Knight wrote in her diary about her travels by horse
from Boston to new York and a stay at the local ordinary (tavern): "We
would have eat a morsell, but the Pumpkin and Indian-mixt Bread had
such an aspect, and the bare-Legg'd Punch so awkwerd or rather awfull
that we left both." Mention a tavern today and the immediate reaction is a bar - a place to drink. As Alice Morse Earle wrote in her book Stage Coach and Tavern Days: "Though today somewhat shadowed by a formless reputation of being frequently applied to hostelries of vulgar resort and coarse fare & ways, the word 'tavern' is neverless a good one..." With that in mind, the
tavern has ever played an important part in social, political, and military
life, and has helped to make history. From the earliest days when men gathered to
talk over the terrors of Indian warfare through the renewal of these fears in
the French and Indian War, and through all the anxious but steadfast years
preceding and during the Revolution, these gatherings were held in the
'ordinaries' or taverns.
tavern was the rendezvous for patriotic bands who listened to the stirring
words of American rebels, and mixed dark treason to King George with every bowl
of punch they drank. The story of our War for Independence could not be
dissociated from the old taverns, they are a part of our national history, and
those which still stand are among our most interesting Revolutionary relics.
tavern conversation might revolve around local events, gossip, or turn to a
discussion of the acts of Parliament in distant England. As was written in
1732: “To avoid conversation is to Act against the Intention of nature. To live
then as men we must confer with men. Conversations must be one of the greatest
pleasures of life.” Information
at taverns was also gathered through newspapers, notices, and broadsides. And
the conversations and discussions continued loudly into the wee hours. As
Alexander Hamilton observed, “I returned to my lodging at eight o’clock, and
the post being deliver’d, I found a numerous company at Slater’s reading the
news. Their chit-chat and noise kept me awake 3 hours after I went to bed.”
Reading the latest news from a broadside: The tavern has played an important part in the formation of our country, for this was where "the rendezvous for patriotic bands who listened to the stirring words of American rebels, and mixed dark treason to King George with every bowl of punch they drank. The War for Independence can not be disassociated from taverns."
The Revolutionary War affected nearly every person in the colonies, and due to the
loyalties of either side of the conflict, the subject was on every tongue and
caused many friends to become enemies. Now, I don't plan to get too much into
the conflict here, for I have already done a blog post about that (With Liberty and Justice For: The Fight For Independence at
Henry Ford Museum), but my article here would not be complete if I
didn't at least touch a little upon this.
Common Sense is a
pamphlet written by Thomas Paine, who, at the time, was a recent political activist immigrant from
England, and was published anonymously on January 10, 1776. It explained the
advantages of and the need for immediate independence in clear, simple
language. It was sold and distributed widely and read aloud at taverns and
What I have to
present to you is a clip so you can see and hear "ordinary" colonial folk discuss the events of this Revolutionary War, and more specifically, how patriotic fervor from a
simple-yet-powerful pamphlet caused much discussions inside the taverns of
Here is an exact replica of the January 1776 pamphlet that caused all the commotion
And the women caught the patriotism bug right along side their men. Here is a reenactment taking place inside the Daggett House recreating the completion and presentation of
the Betsy Ross flag in 1776.
And, of course, we proudly hung the flag out the window of the house.
Even the Giddings girls were impressed with the fine work the ladies did in making the flag.
So, how about a little fife and drum music fitting for a Revolution:
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
learning of the every day lives of any past era has always been my main course
of study, but reading of our colonial ancestor's survival through even harsher
terms than the Civil War era makes me admire these folks even more.
can look back today and say, "oh, how awful our ancestors had it. What
miserable lives they lead!"
Chopping wood was not just a man's chore...
...everybody pitched in.
our future descendents may say the same of us 200 years from now. But, just as
our ancestors didn't think of their lives as miserable, neither do we of our own. Well, at
least most of us don't. Just as the people of the future should not condemn our morals and actions as not being like their own, neither should we condemn those in the past for living the lives of their time with their own morals and actions. Instead of condemnation, we can learn from them. Plain and simple, we need
to stop placing our modern sense and sensibilities upon those from the past.
We need to look at their world through their eyes and mind, not ours. Just like we have no true idea of what comforts the future may bring us -
therefore not missing what we do not have - the same goes for our ancestors who knew absolutely nothing of future comforts that we now take for granted. In
all honesty, it would not surprise me one bit if our forefathers and
foremothers would not think very highly of our lifestyle at all.
I would be willing to bet they were probably much happier than many today give them credit for.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I have found scads of other wonderful information that helped to
bring this era alive. What I have written here in this posting about colonial life is barely a sliver of ice on an iceburg of the information available. But, if it piques your interest in the colonial era even
just a little, then I have done my job. Too bad it's not a paying job!
I do consistently add to this post so please make return visits.
And you can see that my excursion into the Colonial period, not unlike my passion for the mid-19th century, also centers on the social history of the time. I've always loved social history; the wars and battles, although I realize were important and I do read about every-so-often, never interested me nearly as much as everyday life.
The greater majority of the photos included throughout this posting are some that I took of the colonial era homes at Greenfield Village, my solace from the 21st century. Except for the picture of Daggett at the very top of this post. That one was taken by historical presenter Larissa Fleishman.
And, yes, I'm in many of them. Not an ego thing, it's just that the photos fit what I was looking for. Plus there aren't that many colonial men at Greenfield Village.
It really amazes me just how historically blessed I am to have the opportunity to visit the numerous eras of American history, from the colonial period through the 20th century, in places very near to where I live.
Almost, but not quite, as good as living in a historical house!
And here are a few colonial era movies. Not all are necessarily historically accurate, and a couple concentrate on war, but I do still enjoy watching them. By the way, the reviews have been taken from various movie review sites, and I included my own personal small observations as well:
"Based on David McCullough's
bestselling biography, the HBO miniseries John Adams is the furthest
thing from a starry-eyed look at America's founding fathers and the brutal path
to independence. Adams (Paul Giamatti), second president of the United States,
is portrayed as a skilled orator and principled attorney whose preference for
justice over anti-English passions earns enemies. The first thing one notices
about John Adams' dramatizations of congress' proceedings, and the
fervent pro-independence violence in the streets of Boston and elsewhere, is
that America's roots don't look pretty or idealized here. Some horrendous
things happen in the name of protest, driving Adams to push the cause of
independence in a legitimate effort to get on with a revolutionary war under
the command of George Washington.
Besides this peek into a
less-romanticized version of the past, John Adams is also a story of the
man himself. Adams' frustration at being forgotten or overlooked at critical
junctures of America's early development--sent abroad for years instead of
helping to draft the U.S. constitution--is detailed. So is his dismay that the
truth of what actually transpired leading to the signing of the Declaration of
Independence has been slowly forgotten and replaced by a rosier myth. But above
all, John Adams is the story of two key ties: Adams' 54-year marriage to
Abigail Adams (Laura Linney), every bit her husband's intellectual equal and
anchor, and his difficult, almost symbiotic relationship with Thomas Jefferson
(Stephen Dillane) over decades." Ken's Observation: "the furthest
thing from a starry-eyed look at America's founding fathers" as is quoted here does not mean they make our Founding Fathers look like bumbling idiots, sex fiends, or 21st century people thrown into an 18th century world. There is no modern PC to make it contemporary. It's a very well-done historical drama that shows people as they were in a very natural way. Hands down as authentic as it gets!
A Midwife's Tale -
1785, America was a rough and chaotic young nation, and Maine its remote
northern frontier. That year, at the age of 50, Martha Ballard began the diary
that she would keep for the next 27 years, until her death. At a time when
fewer than half the women in America were literate, Ballard faithfully recorded
the weather, her daily household tasks, her midwifery duties (she delivered
close to a thousand babies), her medical practice, and countless incidents that
reveal the turmoil of a new nation -- dizzying social change, intense religious
conflict, economic boom and bust -- as well as the grim realities of disease,
domestic violence, and debtor's prison. In
"A Midwife's Tale" the daily activities, the physical feel of the
people and buildings involved, and the historical verity that helps us envision
late 18th century life, are always conscious - these eighteenth-century details
are overlooked treasures that are rich in the texture of everyday life. The
actors were unfamiliar. They look like real people, not movie stars. Family
dynamics were more believable and souring relationships took on terrific
Ballard is played by actress Kaiulani Sewall Lee, a direct descendant of the
Sewall family of Maine -- people the real Martha Ballard knew, aided in
childbirth, and nursed through illness.”
This docu-drama just brought the historic colonial homes I often visit
(like the 1750 Daggett Farmhouse inside Greenfield Village in Dearborn,
MI) to life. This is one
of the most amazing films about everyday 18th century life - - wow----it
authentically and accurately brought the era and people of the Founding
life like I've never experienced. Seriously...this struck a strong chord
in me. After the first 15 minutes or so, it played more like a movie
than a docu-drama. Real life history.
George Washington Mini-Series “A
sweeping eight-hour, three-part miniseries chronicling the life of Washington
from ages 11 to 51, beginning just after the death of his father in 1743 and
taking him through his journeyman days as a young surveyor, his hidden love for
Sally Fairfax (the wife of his best friend), his marriage to widowed Martha
Custis, his involvement in the French and Indian Wars, his premature retirement
from military life and his return to uniform to head the American colonists in
the Revolutionary War. It concludes with his emotional farewell to his officers
and his return to Mount Vernon following war's end. Barry Bostwick heads an
all-star cast in this dramatization of historian James Thomas Flexner's four
volume "George Washington" biography." Ken's Observation: I was seriously blown away by this mini-series. It put flesh on the bones of the Father of our Country like no other, which, from what I've read on various sites, is unlike the new movie about Washington that is supposedly being released in 2015. This one from 1984 sticks to the truth by following documents and letters, whereas the new one, I hear, will be taking a few extreme 21st century liberties and fallacies in hopes to show Washington "as a real man." Yeah...as a real 21st century Hollywood man. If this is true then I'll stick to this one, thank you.
Mary Silliman's War - "Often
forgotten when we think of the Revolutionary War is the involvement of
non-combatants. In this case, General Silliman was not commanding troops
but rather served as a state’s attorney. He was caught up in the intense
conflict between the Tories, Whigs and those who tried to remain neutral.
Silliman was abducted during the night by Tories and taken to Long Island and
wife, wonderfully portrayed by Nancy Palk, rises to the occasion and works to
obtain his freedom through various plans of exchange. Time and time again
she is thwarted. Wonderfully depicted is the neighbor vs. neighbor
clashes of civilians as well as conflict with those in authority who find
General Silliman a convenient political bargaining chip.
is a wrenching tale. Absent are the ranks of soldiers firing in
battle. Instead, there is the struggle of a woman to overcome the myriad
of obstacles in her way. Eventually, she very reluctantly resorts to
desperate measures." (This review from All Things Liberty web site)
This was a very impressive, well-made movie. Who needs Hollywood when
independents can show history much more accurate? Yes, an excellent
movie about a part of the Revolutionary War rarely shown.
is simply a gem of a movie based on Howard Fast's excellent 1962 novel of the
first day of hostilities between colonists and Britain.
There may have been bigger blockbusters made about the American Revolution (The
Patriot, etc.) but this under- rated
1988 film is a true classic, capturing the quintessential decency of American
colonial village life in Lexington and the developing tensions and conflict on
that fateful day of 19th April 1775.
Morning is also effective because it does not glamorize war or demonize
the redcoats. In fact, a Patriot and a Redcoat are both seen, at various
stages, to be scared witless by the whiff of grapeshot and of battle. Yet
overall, in what is truly a momentous day for the villagers of Lexington and
Concord, we see how the events mature a young colonist, and this is brilliantly
illustrated at the end of the film when he leads his family in prayer for their
food and life. This very subtle approach makes it evident that the boy, like
colonial America, is gone forever and has been replaced by a decent man who
would, with humility, be worthy of his emerging new leadership role-in young America." Ken's Observations: This is another movie that took me by surprise when I discovered it a couple years ago. We now make it an annual watch on either April 18 or 19. I highly recommend this you-are-there movie.
There are more out there but, to me these are the best.
do advise you to stay away from such trash as "The Story of US" put out
by the History Channel. So much is glazed over or not even touched
upon. In fact, so little time is spent on the early years of our nation
that one would think the great explorers came over in the year 1800!
And here are a few of my other postings that pertain to the colonial era of our Nation's history: Civil War vs Colonial Reenacting
I do two eras and the difference between reenacting and living history.
Plus my complaints about so-called historians who have degrees.