Saturday, March 4, 2017

Bringing Historic Homes to Life: The Colonial Giddings House

Welcome to the home of 
John and Mehetable Giddings.
Won't you please come in?
As a history nerd,  a history geek,  a social historian,  and a living historian,  I can tell you there are few things that excite me more than historical research.  There's a certain  thrill  and excitement I get upon finding the bits of information scattered about that,  when put together cohesively,  can vividly bring the past to life.
I dive into the past frequently,  as most of you who read this blog know,  and I will scour the recesses of research libraries,  legitimate on-line resources,  and my own extensive book collection,  sometimes only finding a phrase,  a minor quote,  or even a word or two,  but will add greatly to the story herein.
I have done postings like this for a number of the historic houses and buildings that now sit on the grounds of the open-air museum known as Greenfield Village,  for I visit the 80 acres of land filled with history often,  and no matter how often,  I still never get tired of going.
 And that is the purpose behind postings such as this:  to have enough information about the historic homes there to give the reader the mindset to look beyond the walls and furniture inside and sort of  see and feel  the figurative  ghosts  whose spirits have remained...but are mostly ignored
One such structure is known as the Giddings House,  a structure with an American Revolutionary War past,  and this wonderful piece of history has such a story to tell...I hope this posting does the house and the family that once lived there justice.
The 1751 Giddings Home
In the late 1920s,  while putting together the collection of 18th and 19th century structures that would comprise his Greenfield Village,  Henry Ford let it be known that he was in the market for an eighteenth century colonial mansion house,  a home of an upper class family.  His New England purchasing agent, W. W.  Taylor,  located what was then known as the Batchelder house in Exeter,  New Hampshire.  It had been vacant since 1919 and was in a run-down condition.  In fact,  so was the neighborhood where it sat. did this once resplendent manor that wound up in such a declined condition,  certainly headed for eventual destruction,  find itself once again as a home of reverence and,  even better,  as a museum piece?
Well, let's go back to the beginning...
John Giddings,  the builder of this house,  was born in 1728 in Exeter, New Hampshire. He married Mehetable Gilman in the fall of 1751,  and since nearly every research page that mentions this house says it was constructed in that same year,  I'm going to speculate that he built it a number of months beforehand with the thoughts of his new bride and the hope for a future family in mind.
Well,  over a span of 18 years,  John and Mehetable had five children:  Mary  (1752),  John  (1754),  Dorothy  (1758),  Mehetable  (1764),  and Deborah  (1770).
Here is my wife,  Mehe---I mean,  Patty,  standing in the doorway of the Giddings mansion house,  enjoying a spring afternoon in the 1770s.
According to the notes I've found in the Benson Ford Research Center,  this wonderful example of an upscale New England colonial home once stood on an area known as Meeting House Hill.  It was called Meeting House Hill because the first  "meeting house"  was built in that vicinity in 1651.  In those days a meeting house was a structure built as the focal point of the community,  where all the town's residents could meet to discuss the issues of the day,  conduct in worship,  and even take care of the town's business.  They were usually the largest building in town - many of the old churches in New England began as meeting houses.
The home of John and Mehetable,  however,  was  not  a meeting house.  Instead,  according to the Exeter Probate Records of 1824,  it was referred to as the  "mansion house."  One can see just by the exterior alone that it represents a more well-to-do residence of 18th century colonial America,  suitable for a man of means such as our Mr. Giddings.  This beautiful structure was situated on property that also included a warehouse and mercantile shop,  both of which Giddings operated,  and over-looked a wharf on the Squamscott River.
From the original account book of John Giddings - 
This is important because he owned ships and participated in the West Indies trade.  According to his account book,  Giddings brought in fine fabrics that were not just listed as  "woolen clothe"  but by their respective names such as  "bayze,"  "callicose,"  "kersey,"  and even  "ozenbriggs."  Other items listed included molasses, sundries, salt, beef, corn, buttons, pig iron, chocolate...and rum. Lots of rum.
"(John Giddings)  ran a small mercantile business from his wharf below on the Squamscott River.  His account book,  which reveals transactions primarily through barter,  is in the collections of the Exeter Historical Society.  Most of his goods were shipped through the West Indies,  indirectly bringing textiles from Great Britain and,  good lord,  an amazing amount of sugar and rum.  Had the teetotaling Henry Ford known how much rum came through the warehouse of John Giddings,  he may have thought twice about the building as an example of stoic New England."
(From an article by Barbara Rimkunas, the curator of the Exeter Historical Society)
Stirring the Hops
But,  one must understand why the  "hard"  drink was so popular in colonial times.  Today,  for some reason,  it seems that modern historians like to make commentary along the lines that it was a wonder the  "Founding Fathers could stand up with all the beer and liquor they drank." 
And it’s true – they did consume quite a bit.  And they even got drunk at times,  just like people here in the 21st century  (and some more often than others).  But if one would research deeper rather than assume,  these so-called historians going for shock rather than truth would learn that liquor and beer were a major dietary staple in the colonies.  Literally everyone partook.  Because it was healthier to drink than water,  it was the common item which spanned generations;  from cradle to grave everyone drank beer,  including infants,  though the proof  (the percentage of alcohol)  was different according to age and preference,  and it was especially recommended for nursing mothers.  Farmers,  laborers,  merchants,  lawyers,  and craftsman all drank beer.  It was a common thread in all their lives and this democratic beverage would even  "play a role of mid-wife in the formation of government."
As for the time of day drinking occurred,  it was not uncommon for drinking to begin even before breakfast and it continued with every meal throughout the day.
Social historian from Camden,  New Jersey,  Richard Pillatt,  tells us a story of beer's importance in our history:
"After we announced  (that we were doing a historic beer-brewing demonstration)  this summer,  I was in a nearby restaurant eavesdropping on some people who were discussing our publicity,  and one of them asked the other,  'what does BEER really have to do with history?'  Well,  in terms of daily life in 18th-century Camden County,  one word easily answers that question:
'Everything,'  I said.  Beer played a central role in the social,  economic and political life of almost all our regional ancestors.  It provided daily nutritional sustenance,  it was made from the crops that they grew and bought and sold in huge quantities,  and it was the key lubricant in the networks of local taverns that were the culture's primary social and political venues."
So now you know the most-likely reason why rum was on the lists.  I am just trying to correct another myth from those who attempt to create something out of nothing instead of using real facts.  And,  as we can see with Mr. Giddings  (and many,  many other merchants),  rum was used often in bartering situations.
Mehetable pours tea
Being that John Giddings was a merchant and in shipping  (and also,  so I've read,  a physician and was sometimes referred to as " Dr. Giddings"),  he and his wife maintained social and business contacts that helped to further his local,  regional,  and international business interests.  He and Mehetable had to  "keep up appearances,"  both with their possessions,  the home they lived in,  and in the entertainment they offered their guests.  This is why we see the house furnished with the latest up-to-date style of the time,  including imported goods and tea ware.  And though there is no documentation,  it is safe to say they had at least one hired house servant - - probably more,  in actuality.
It would have been with a proper tea  (coming from China)  with lots of foods and sweets that Mehetable entertained the ladies,  as was the fashion in the 1760s.
Hired girl preparing for the tea
While the women had their tea,  men would enjoy a card game.  These would have been important gatherings for business contacts as well as to continue good relations with their fashionable neighbors on the hill.  In other words,  social obligations.
John Giddings,  as a merchant,  had good contacts in far off places for acquiring fine imported goods.  He would also need everyday items and would buy or trade for things made by the locals.  But for  accessories  that needed to be fashionable,  such as clothing,  furniture,  and the aforementioned tea items  (maybe a tea table made in Boston or fine cream ware cups and a stylish teapot from England),  they would look to the big port cities such as Boston or Portsmouth for the latest styles and tastes.

Now, let's look at the times in which the Giddings family lived - - -
'tis good to be patriots!
Exeter,  New Hampshire was the center of political colonial activity for many years.  It was the seat of government and included numerous state offices.  John Giddings,  being a man of prominence,  was an elected statesman for several years,  and a representative just before and during the early years of the American Revolution.  The New Hampshire Provincial Convention met in Exeter in 1775 to consider rebellion against the King.  It was also in this city where the New Hampshire Convention voted to accept or reject the Federal Constitution in February of 1788. 
In addition to the colonist's desire for political freedom,  they also sought freedom from economic dominance of England,  who greatly restricted colonial industry.
Knowing this,  and being a student of American History,  I set a course to find out the involvement, if any,  of Giddings in the Revolutionary War.
I was not let down.
Mr. Giddings,  one of the most active and trusted supporters of the patriotic cause in the Legislature,  commanded a company of those who marched from Exeter to Portsmouth to support,  if necessary,  the party of General Sullivan and Laughdon in the raid upon Fort William and Mary in Portsmouth Harbor in December 1774.  In 1775,  he was nominated for the important appointment of delegate to the Continental Congress,  but modestly withdrew his name.
In the book  "Rolls and Documents Relating to Soldiers of the Revolutionary War,"  I found a Captain John Giddings under the  "Exeter Account"  
This is from the book  "Rolls and Documents 
Relating to Soldiers of the Revolutionary War"
and is an  "Abatement of Soldiers' Poll-Taxes"

The documentation at the Benson Ford Research Center confirmed that this was the one and the same John Giddings who built and lived in the house now situated inside Greenfield Village.
There were four other members of the Giddings Family,  along with Joseph Pearson  (who married a Giddings daughter - more on him shortly),  who served in the Revolutionary War.

Only a couple years after the War had ended,  John Giddings died.
The sad fact is,  the man killed himself by drowning.
In Exeter's Index of Obituaries 1704 - 1800,  it is written:
"Giddings,  John Dr.  of Exeter,  NH.  Suicide by drowning.  Left wid.  & five chil.  Nov. 23,  1785."
And in the Newbury-Port newspaper from November 30,  1785:
"Last Wednesday evening Dr.  John Giddings of Exeter,  State of New Hampshire,  we are informed put a period to his existence,  by drowning himself.  It is said he had intimated his intention sometime previous to his committing the horrid deed;  and only a day or two before had asked his brother which he supposed to be the least painful death,  hanging or drowning.  He has left a wife and five children."
How so very sad to find such news,  but grateful I did,  for this shows that humans are humans no matter which time period they lived.
The 1785 obituary for John Giddings
One has to wonder why:  was it PTSD from the Revolutionary War?  Did he owe a great debt and could not pay?  Maybe he was a sufferer of depression?
We may never know...

By the way,  there is a possibility that George Washington may have had some contact with a member of the Giddings still living in the home after John's death or maybe even the Pearsons at the family wharf across the street from the house.  Though there is nothing documented of this,  research does show that Washington was in Exeter in 1789 and that he most likely had dinner with a group of prominent citizens,  including the New Hampshire Secretary of State Joseph Pearson.
Washington's diary entry from November 4,  1789,  indicates that he had taken note of,  and had an interest in,  the ship building activity in Exeter.  Newspaper accounts of the time do place Washington at Folsom Tavern just a few blocks from the Giddings' wharf.
Here is an actual snippet from Washington's diary:
Wednesday 4th.  About half after seven I left Portsmouth,  quietly & without any attendance,  having earnestly entreated that all parade & ceremony might be avoided on my return.  Before ten I reached Exeter 14 Miles distance.  This is considered as the 2d.  Town in New-Hampshire and stands at the head of the tide water of Piscataqua River but Ships of 3 or 400 Tonns are built at it.  Above  (but in the Town)  are considerable Falls which supply several Grist Mills -- 2 Oyl Mills A Slitting Mill and Snuff Mill.  It is a place of some consequence but does not contain more than 1000 Inhabitants.  A jealousy subsists between this Town  (where the Legislature alternately sits)  and Portsmouth,  which,  had I known it in time,  would have made it necessary to have accepted an Invitation to a Public dinner,  but my arrangements having been otherwise made I could not.
Can't hide my patriotic pride!
Washington's next stop,  Haverhill, New Hampshire,  on the same tour is documented better by the media than Exeter's.  But,  this may be due to the fact that Portsmouth and Exeter were political rivals,  therefore concentrating on Washington's visits in and around Portsmouth.  However,  for an 18th century New England town to have a visit by the nation’s first President amounted to an unrivaled event.  Washington’s popularity was enormous and the tour,  of which he called  “A tour through the Eastern states in order to acquire knowledge of the face of the Country,  the growth and agriculture thereof and the temper and disposition of the inhabitants toward the new government,”  was greeted with pomp and ceremony at each and every stop,  including,  I'm certain,  Exeter.

Other than this,  the occurrences involving the Giddings family and the house in which they lived in the years following John's death are unclear until about 1790,  when Joseph Pearson moved into the house.  Pearson was born in Exeter in 1737.  He attended Harvard,  and,  shortly after, became school master at Phillips Exeter Academy.
Like Captain Giddings,  Joseph Pearson played a role in the American Revolution.  Early on,  while living in Concord,  the Provincial Congress employed him to deliver messages,  and in 1780 the Congress then appointed him to the committee to sign the Province money.  According to my findings,  Pearson's signature appears on much of the paper money issued during the next five years.
In 1786,  Joseph Pearson was appointed the Secretary of State of New Hampshire,  an office that paid 20 pounds a year.  He held this office until 1804  when he was removed to make way for a  "Jeffersonian Republican."
Clothing fashion - 1812
Could this be Dorothy (Giddings) Pearson?
Joseph lived in the Giddings home off and on at times between 1786 and 1790,  though I am not sure of the situation or the reason,  for it wasn't until 1790 that he purchased the house from the Giddings estate.  Why the home was sold at the time is unclear.  He also married John and Mehetable's second eldest daughter,  Dorothy,  this taking place inside the house in April of 1795.
It seems,  however,  that I cannot find out if the Pearsons had any children of their own.
When Joseph Pearson passed away in 1823,  he had a large amount of debt to his name.  As a result,  his estate had to be sold.  His widow,  Dorothy  (who was,  by the way,  twenty years his junior),  was forced to sell two thirds of it.  This gave her partial use of the house - her  "dower right"  - which included  "the long lower room in the southeast corner,  the two west chambers,  the west end of the garret,  the privilege of the front entry,  the front and back stairs,  with a privilege in the kitchen to go to and from the same at all times,  a part of the cellar under said long room the southeast corner thereof,  so far back as to include the arch,  the front cellar stairs.  Also a privilege in the common of about twelve feet of land on the south side and west end of said house,  the land between the north of said house and street,  of the well,  the necessary,  with full rights to pass and from all the same at all times."
And this was where Dorothy lived until her death in 1839,  afterward the fate of the home being in the sheriff's hands.
Throughout the rest of the 19th century,  the house went through numerous owners:  following Dorothy's death in 1839,  the house was sold to James Bell In 1847 it was sold to John G.  Gould,  then in 1866 to Richard Bliss,  and then to George Titcomb in 1874.  James H. Batchelder bought the house from Titcomb and it remained in that family until Henry Ford purchased it for $1000 in 1929.  The house had been vacant since 1919 and was quite run down.  Ford had dilapidated structure dismantled and shipped to Dearborn,  Michigan,  where he planned to rebuild and restore it to its former glory.
Here is a picture of the Giddings House being dismantled (courtesy of the Exeter Historical Society)~
The differences from the structure in its original state to how it looks reconstructed today is easy to identify by the roof alone.
Unfortunately,  there are some flaws that occurred in its reconstruction inside Greenfield Village due to the men Ford entrusted in its disassembly.  "...the present building has neither the size,  shape,  room arrangement,  decorative detailing,  or even a substantial portion of the physical components of the original.  It is extremely doubtful that the present building even faintly resembles the the house owned by the Pearsons,  Giddings,  or any of the others."
Original location - - again,  note the style of the roof and compare...
Yeah...a little different, wouldn't you say?
The little  "extension"  you see on the right was also added by Mr.  Ford.  This house was,  when first reconstructed in the Village,  a classroom,  and I believe that was where the desks were located. 
It has been recommended by some historians of The Henry Ford to have that portion removed in order to give a more accurate depiction of the home,  but,  for reasons unknown  (probably financial),  it remains.
It was the  "dower right"  description that explained what the original looked like.  Clearly, the characterization of the original house as a four room hall-and-parlor type  (two rooms up and two rooms down)  is not consistent with the description from 1824.
But,  fear not,  for the researcher continues:  "Which is not to say that this building does not offer interesting and useful interpretive possibilities.  The fact remains that there exists a real,  if somewhat diminished,  connection between the present incarnation of the building and the original of Exeter."
Could this sketch be what the Giddings Home is supposed to look like?
And, well, here is a house very similar and in the same general area where Giddings once stood.  Notice the slant on the back of the house.
And below is another,  this one from Ipswitch,  Massachusetts:
Giddings may have had quite an usual architectural style.

The inside of the Giddings house originally had a four room ground-floor plan with a u-shape stairway   (which is still there - see picture at the top of this post)  across the tiny hallway from the front door leading to the second floor.  In the small closet beneath the stairs is a secret panel concealing a narrow flight of stairs that leads to the attic.  If you noticed,  the fireplaces are not centered in the room,  but are placed close to one end of the room to provide space for the secret stairway behind the paneling. 
The large fireplaces in the parlor and the sitting room,  however,  were not made in the larger size for cooking,  but only to provide heat. 
Note the corner location of the fireplace~
Folks who lived in a home such as the Daggett Farm would not be so wasteful as to burn more than one candle at the same time  (there is also a third candle lit upon the table on the right,  just out of this shot)  and  have a fire in the hearth as you may have seen occur inside the wealthier Giddings House.
All of the houses that have been disassembled and reconstructed inside Greenfield Village were delivered with each piece numbered similar to a puzzle when shipped for easier and accurate reassembly.  However,  the Giddings House was not.  Taylor,  for some odd reason,  did not clearly identify each piece as it was disassembled,  and it all lay in a pile in the Village during the dedication ceremony in October of 1929 in no order.  During its reconstruction,  architect Ed Cutler had to figure out,  as best he could,  how the house should go together.  By having numerous additions added on years after its original construction,  this was no easy task.  But, by studying the layout of similar homes of this period,  he restored it to what he believed to be its earliest condition.  This included the secret staircase leading to the attic.

When one considers the little information he had to work with,  Cutler did an admirable job restoring the home to what he believed to be accurate,  and it was completed by the summer of 1930,  though it was not opened until 1933.  From that point through the early 2000s it was known as The Secretary House,  and then right around 2003 it was reconfigured to the earlier period Giddings House.

The fireplace in the hall/parlor that is directly
behind the one in the previous picture~

I took this picture through
a window.  It's not one that can be seen most
of the year,  aside from Holiday Nights.
So,  with that bit of knowledge,  let's tour this grand mansion home as it now sits,  changes and all,  inside Greenfield Village, f or it is still a fine representation of a colonial-style house from New England.  Remember...Henry Ford was a collector,  and he was able to garner antiques from all walks of life,  and it was in this manner he was able to furnish the Pearson/Giddings House.
Ready to for a tour?

Though there are five fireplaces in the house,  from the outside we only see a single huge chimney.  This is due to the flues of all five fireplaces being connected to that centrally located chimney.  This was not an uncommon practice during the colonial period.  The Daggett House right across the road inside the Village also utilizes the one-chimney style.

Upon entering the front door,  a winding staircase greets us.  Of course,  it would be rude to immediately go above stairs - we should first visit the rooms on the main floor.
The room to the left of the staircase is the  hall/best room/drawing room/the Sunday parlor - - take your pick at what to call it,  for during colonial times,  it went by all three titles,  though  "drawing room"  seemed to be the term used in the wealthier homes,  especially in the early 19th century.
Is this the hall,  best room,  the Sunday parlor,  or drawing room?
Ha!  Trick question - - it has been referred to as all four in various times!  Names of rooms changed over time,  such as bedchamber to bedroom and hall to parlor to living room.  And since this house was utilized greatly from the 18th century through the 19th century,  all titles are acceptable depending on the era.
This room would reflect the wealth of families like the Giddings and Pearsons.  They were seldom used except for important rituals like Christening receptions,  weddings,  and funerals.  It was a place to assemble and display one's most expensive household furnishings,  entertain distinguished guests,  and observe whatever degree of social ritual was appropriate for one's rank and station.
Ready to entertain their esteemed guests.
The previous picture was taken from the door you see here on the left.
In the homes of the wealthiest people,  the drawing room was a place where one could concentrate the elegance of the whole house.

Now,  the room to the right of the stairs is the family everyday parlor,  also known as the sitting room,  which was far more comfortable,  more welcoming,  and more frequently used.  This room was usually the second best room of the house,  and its furnishings were less formal and usually included a rocking chair,  regular chairs,  a table,  a sewing table,  a writing desk,  and a warm fire.
Waiting for the guests to arrive in the everyday parlor.
The Village has chosen not to furnish the sitting room beyond the few 
items you see here. But it is just enough to give the  'flavor'  needed.
The sitting room was used daily by the family,  and it was here where they entertained their closest friends.
Though it was  "an orderly place,"  the room became dirty and cluttered as the day went on because it was the most used throughout the day by family and friends.
In the cool of a spring or autumn night or during the cold of a 
New England winter,  the warmth emanating from the 
hearth in the sitting room would keep the family decently comfortable.
Unless it became too cold...then there was little anyone could do to 
fend off winter's bitterness.
"Daughter, there is this young man about town.  Well...he really isn't very young.  But he does have means."
"Who is this gentleman,  Father?" 
"Joseph Pearson.  Methinks he may be well suited for you."
"Aye,  Father.  I should like to meet him."
(okay,  so I am fairly certain that it probably didn't happen in that manner...but it does fit the picture.)

The kitchen inside the Giddings home,  as it looks now,  is typical of many colonial kitchens,  and is located in the back of the house.
Many kitchens from the colonial period were separate  "outbuildings."
 Colonial cooking,  which made a veritable feast from basic ingredients,  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.

Running a kitchen really did require a staggering range of skills,  including chopping kindling,  keeping a fire burning indefinitely,  knowing which wood was best for baking or frying,  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.  In fact,  the colonial cook would have to begin their work by  "building a good-sized fire on the hearth,  but once the logs had burned to coals,  the embers were moved around,  and carefully selected pieces of wood would be added to produce different kinds of heat,  often having several small fires going at once.  Piles of live embers on the hearth were like burners on a stove;  a gridiron set over a pile of coals could be used for broiling;  a pan set over coals on a trivet could be used for frying;  and coals could be piled over and under a Dutch oven for baking." 
 (From the book America'sKitchens by Nancy Carlisle and Melinda Talbot Nasardinov).
The Giddings kitchen~
Mrs. Giddings oversees the food preparation for her tea
Converting perishable  "resources"  and maintaining adequate supplies throughout the year required energy as well as experience in both housewifery and husbandry  (raising crops and animals for food).
The servant girl in the kitchen certainly had her work cut out for her.
~social obligations~

Hmmm...what's on the tea menus - - I can recognize syllabub, and that cake might be a Queen's Cake with currants. I also spy fruit...
The Giddings kitchen as it is inside Greenfield Village will sometimes include a  'chocolateer,'  - one who makes chocolate - working his craft as it would have been done 250 years ago,  though this presentation only takes place during the Christmas Season's  "Holiday Nights"  event.

Chocolate was initially a treat for the wealthy,  but soon was available to the every man.
By 1773,  the demand for chocolate in the colonies resulted in the importation of over 320 tons of cocoa beans.  Drinking chocolate was affordable to all classes of people and was available in most coffee houses,  where colonists would gather to talk about politics and the news of the day.
But the Giddings could have afforded to hire a chocolateer,  who could make it right there in the kitchen to impress and entertain the guests.
Here,  Roy shows us the art of making chocolate as was once done in America's colonial era.

As far as the bed chambers are concerned,  the two they have available for showing in the Giddings house are  "above stairs."
Bed chambers,  in general comparison to our modern bedrooms,  have not changed greatly in set up:  one or two beds,  a dresser,  a chair,  and maybe a wall hanging or two.
Bedsteads were almost exclusively made of wood,  and some were built lower to the floor,  while others higher off the ground.  In many cases,  those that were made higher had trundle beds stored underneath.
The bed chamber - above stairs on the left~
Note the bed and how it can fold up if necessary.
The bed chamber - above stairs on the left~
The Queen Anne chest of drawers,  pictured above,  originally belonged to the family of Josiah Bartlett  (1729-1795),  a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the first governor of New Hampshire.
Instead of the box spring that we have today,  the majority of colonial-era beds were rope beds,  meaning ropes laced from side to side along the length of the bed to form a foundation to hold the bed and bedding.  These ropes could be tightened or loosened to the owners comfort.
What we call the mattress,  they simply referred to as  "the bed,"  and they were made from a variety of materials stuffed into a large sack known as  "ticking."  Straw and corn husks were both common material used to stuff the ticking.
The bed chamber - above stairs on the right~
By the way,  contrary to what you may have heard,  people were not necessarily shorter back then.  Well,  okay,  maybe about an inch or so.  But most folks were not too far off in height from the general population of today.
Most beds were also close to the size of our modern beds as well.
Sometimes a featherbed,  which is ticking filled with goose down and feathers  (for use mainly in the winter months),  would be laid upon the straw or corn bed.  A featherbed would be filled with many pounds of feathers.  One inventory from 1741 listed a featherbed as weighing 75 pounds!
In inventories,  when beds are listed with bedsteads,  they are often called  "underbeds,"  to differentiate them from featherbeds.
The bed chamber - above stairs on the right
Also in the room we find a chaise lounge/daybed.  This was where one could sit and lie back to relax,  maybe read a book,  or even take a quick afternoon nap.
It is surprising to think of how little bedchambers 250 years ago have changed much from our modern bedrooms.

Well,  there you have the information I could find about the Giddings House,  and I hope you enjoyed our walk through time while visiting it.  To me it is truly one of the finest of all the homes in Greenfield Village - it is easily in my top five structures.  
It's been said it was built to  "serve and endure." 
It certainly has.
To sum it all up,  let's,  once again,  hear from Barbara Rimkunas,  the curator of the Exeter Historical Society:  Standing at the top of a hill on outer Water Street at the corner of Salem Street,  the house didn't look like much to most Exeter residents.  Even the Exeter News-Letter editor John Templeton seemed a bit perplexed,  noting:  "The Batchelder house on Secretary Hill has been purchased by Henry Ford.  It will be carefully taken down and the material shipped to Dearborn,  Mich.,  for rebuilding in the Ford museum village.  Exeter has much older houses and others of greater interest,  but in this one there is much fine woodwork."
What most Exeter residents missed was that this particular house had more historic value than they assumed.  Just the fact that it was located on  'Secretary Hill'  should have been a clue about its importance.  

And there you have it.
The Giddings House,  even in its re-configured state,  is still a beautiful example of colonial America,  and,  as you have just read,  has tales to tell.

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Ken's final thoughts:
It's unfortunate that nearly the entire house is plexi-glassed off for most of the year,  for there is such a story to be told here.  Imagine...we have a Revolutionary War house - - - did you hear that?  We have an actual house with American Revolutionary War history  "built in"  - - - right here in our Michigan midst!
And there are stories to be told--------------
I remember those days when the sitting room was opened up and the period-dress presenters at Daggett and Giddings would refer visitors back and forth to compare rural and urban colonial America,  and it was a wonderful historical experience.
I hope that one day they bring back the lessons taught between the two houses - it really made history come to life in a way like nowhere else 
For now we will have to settle on the rare occasions when the barriers are removed - during the Fall Flavors Weekends and on the festive Holiday Nights events - and we can enter the sitting room and kitchen.  It's on these days  (and nights)  that I try to take full advantage and spend more of my time inside the opened rooms...engulfed and immersed in its history.

Until next time, see you in time.

Besides the Benson Ford Research Center and other posts from Passion for the Past,  information for this posting came from the following books:
Our Own Snug Fireside by Jane C. Nylander
Tidings From the 18th Century by Beth Gilgun
Where We Lived by Jack Larkin
At Home by Elizabeth Garrett

To read about the more rural colonial Daggett House,  click HERE
To read about everyday life in colonial times,  click HERE
To read more about the Revolutionary War,  click HERE
To read more about a colonial kitchen,  click HERE


1 comment:

Unknown said...

Very well researched post Ken, you touched so briefly of all the unknown and untold stories that are lost in time. So many Americans played a role in the foundation of our nation but it's sad that it seems as though the values, morals, and principles aren't being taught in schools that would give today's students a real appreciation for our freedom and liberties