Saturday, February 1, 2020

Winter in the Good Old Colony Days: A Pictorial Journey

As the heading above hints,  there are plenty of photos in this posting,  from Colonial Williamsburg as well as Greenfield Village,  for it was looking through the many wonderful pictures on the internet that partially gave me the idea to do something like this on Passion for the Past.  It is a sort of 18th century version of THIS post.
Now,  though there is a history lesson here strewn throughout,  it is also a personal experience as well,  for I have participated in a few of my own 18th century winter excursions.
So,  grab a hot cup of chocolate,  coffee,  or,  if you must,  tea,  build up the fire in the hearth,  and light a candle,  for our journey into winter past begins now.

~   ~   ~

A Williamsburg Winter
A Lisa Martin Lee picture
(Please visit her website HERE.)
I enjoy visiting many of the Facebook history and reenacting pages that tend to cover nearly every era of the past.  With all of the opinionated politics thrown our way on Facebook by everyone who knows more than everyone else  (and woe to you if you don't agree with them),  the site can actually sometimes be fun,  too.  That's what I use it for - fun.  On my own page you will usually see music,  family,  and,  of course,  history.
For historical photographs,  however,  two of my favorites,  aside from my own Friends of Greenfield Village and Citizens of the American Colonies pages,  are Colonial Williamsburg Friends and Colonial Williamsburg Lovers.  Both are chock-full of pictures taken by fans who visit the restored open-air museum quite frequently,  and I enjoy spending time scrolling through the countless images posted.  Some of these photos mentally bring me to my places of  historical solace - they're that good.
And that's where the roots of today's posting mainly came from:  pictures.
These are pictures that tell a (hi)story;  pictures that emit a feeling to me.  And it's been some of the winter  pictures that have really grabbed my attention of late because history,  in so many cases,  seems to be put on hold during the months from December through March,  especially for those of us who reenact.  So,  with lots of primary sources mixed into the accompanying text,  I was able to immerse myself in those images of the wintery world of 18th century America.
Hey look!
It snowed!
Photo courtesy of Janine Weaver
Being that it is January as I compose this,  I'm figuring now is the perfect time to show readers who,  like myself,  have little opportunity to visit places such as Colonial Williamsburg during their winter season,  or Greenfield Village,  which is closed from January through mid-April.
And being that both open-air museums are staunchly entrenched in the past,  I thought it would be fun to tie the two together in one Passion for the Past posting,  and find photos that could add to the overall story.  In doing so I culled the images taken at Colonial Williamsburg from numerous different photographers who post regularly on the pages mentioned above,  and,  aside from only a few who did not respond,  I have received permission to use them here.  This was all done in the winter of 2019 when this post was to originally be published.
As for the few who did not respond,  I hope you don't mind that I do have your pictures here,  with credit  (of course).  If you would like me to remove them,  please let me know and I will.
The shots taken at Greenfield Village were mostly taken by me  (or with my camera,  though there are a couple images taken by other photographers)  in the colonial area of the open-air museum.
So rather than complain about the cold,  let's celebrate the wintertime and enjoy the fun and beauty,  for here we are,  in the throngs of the coldest time of year,  much of our country under the grips of old man winter and all that entails.
Can you imagine this experience living in the 18th century?
Then let's take a peek into the past and put ourselves into the buckled shoes of our ancestors and see what it was like dealing with the coldest of seasons.

We'll begin this journey at Colonial Williamsburg.
I have been there one time only,  unfortunately,  and that was back in June of 2016  (click HERE).
What an amazing time!  And I hope I can make it back there in the not-too-distant future.
Anyhow,  one way for those of us who have been transported to the past to enter Colonial Williamsburg is by horse and carriage - - -
In the colonial period,  snow was never a threat to road travel 
but,  rather,  it was an asset.
Photo courtesy of Jake Eisenhart
The 18th century saw the tail-end of what is now known as  “The Little Ice Age,”  a period lasting from the years 1300 to about 1850.  It was during this time the world saw much harsher winters than the previous and following centuries,  and many well-documented winter storms capable of dropping three feet of snow over a matter of hours.  With these intense winters came not only the need to keep warm in the home but to find an easy way to travel for individuals without sleighs or wagons capable of handling the snow. 
Putting runners on the carriage or pulling out the sleigh made for an easy ride.  One did not need to worry about having the roads plowed - that didn't happen.  In fact,  snow would have been shoveled onto the bare spots in the road to keep the runners gliding smoothly.

A carriage or sleigh ride in winter was an adventure,  for though everyone is dressed warmly,  and the lady of the house also has a blanket to cover her lap as well as a wood-framed metal foot warmer filled with hot coals at her feet,  she is still shivering - as are the other passengers -  for the inside of the carriage is every bit as cold as the teen temperature outside.
This was no warm ride during a bitter cold day.
Picture courtesy of Michael Towle
Through the biting wind and the whirling flakes the stable hands and men,  well bundled,  cracked the whip and made their way as the two powerful grays could take them,  perhaps to church or to a gala ball.
Spying the carriage through the window while 
in the relative warmth of your home
Photo courtesy of Paris Morthorpe
(From THIS Colonial Williamsburg posting by David Robinson):
Wrote Thomas Jefferson in 1805:  “The Canadian glows with delight in his sleigh and snow;  the very idea of which gives me the shivers.”  Was the president recalling that January night in 1772 when he spirited his pretty bride,  Martha,  away from two weeks of wedding revelry at her family’s estate—and out into a blinding snowstorm?  When their cozy phaeton bogged down,  they shivered the last eight miles to Monticello on horseback,  scrambling up his  “little mountain”  through two-foot drifts in the dark.  They got a cold welcome;  the servants had banked the fires and gone to bed.  Finding a half-empty bottle of wine,  they warmed a little outlying cottage—the domed mansion was still but a dream—with  “song and merriment and laughter.”  It was,  he wrote next day,  “the deepest snow we have ever seen.”  Coping with cold may not be much of a challenge for young newlyweds.  But for most American colonists,  winter could be anything from inconvenient to challenging to deadly.

The following two pictures are beautiful winter scenes that truly seem to transport our senses and thoughts to those cold days of long ago.
Not everyone had a horse,  so walking was the mode of travel for 
most who lived in or near the Revolutionary City,  as long as
the snow wasn't too deep.

Photo courtesy of Michael Towle
Skiing was seen as an apt method of travel during the 18th century.  While today skiing is almost exclusively a winter leisure activity,  skiing in the 18th century was done out of necessity.  Trudging through deep snow on foot was not only slow but incredibly dangerous,  and skis offered those living in the 18th century a way to glide across deep snows quickly and safely.  The skis of the 18th century were rudimentary and rigid,  little more than curved planks of wood,  and while it wasn’t likely that many 18th-century skiers in the colonies would be barreling down the sides of mountains for pleasure,  the simple act of skiing was often paramount to survival.
It's not often that Colonial Williamsburg gets such a snowfall.  
I feel the photos of winter in Williamsburg greatly add to the 
overall story of its past.
Photo courtesy of Paris Morthorpe

There it is--- the beautifully historic Bruton Church.
Dating from 1715,  the Bruton Parish Church is 
the third in a series of Anglican houses of worship 
that began in 1660.
Photo courtesy of  Michael Towle
Churches at one time were always to be the tallest structure in any town or village,  and the point to where anyone from any part of town may see its steeple was very important.  This tall steeple also would house the bell to be rung for service or for important news,  therefore it could be heard farther into the countryside the higher it was.
 So rather than build an extremely tall building,  they built a tall 
steeple to place the cross atop and put the bell inside instead.
Photograph courtesy of Gary Dempsey

From a distance,  the steeple of Bruton Parish Church is seen 
within the bare branches of the trees in the center.
Photograph courtesy of Gary Dempsey

The well.
Photo courtesy of Patricia Tunney Miller
In the northern New England colonies if the temperature got low enough and remained there for some time,  water in the wells would freeze up,  as it did for Ebenezer Parkman,  who went without water for weeks in 1780:  "Our lowest and best well has been ever since ye great storm  (in January),  froze up and filled with snow that we have not been able to use it,  till today,  when we got it open."

"This day Jack Frost bites very hard,  so hard that aunt won't let 
me go to any school.  My aunt believes this day is 10 degrees 
colder than it was yesterday; & moreover,  that she would 
not put a dog out of doors."  (from a diary entry from 1772).
Photo courtesy of Corrie Swart

I particularly like this photograph,  for it shows Williamsburg alive 
with activity in the streets during a time most tended to be shut in.
Photo courtesy of Samantha Morthorpe

Ah!  The printer and post office!
Photograph courtesy of Janine Weaver
William Parks' double-bay-windowed shop served as a stationer's,  a post office,  an advertising agency,  an office supply shop,  a newsstand,  and a bookbindery.
In this store William Parks sold magazines and books,  
maps and almanacs,  and even sealing wax!  His press 
printed broadsides and business forms,  laws and 
proclamations,  tracts and blank record books.
Photograph courtesy of Janine Weaver

A must stop would be one of the taverns:  Shields Tavern,  Chownings Tavern,  Christiana Campbell's Tavern,  Wetherburn's Tavern,  King's Arms Tavern,  or the Raleigh Tavern.
Raleigh Tavern
From the Colonial Williamsburg Web Cam
The mistress of the tavern,  in anticipation of  the hungry folk,  busily prepared food and drink.
Upon arrival of the carriage with nearly frozen passengers and the team of the coach,  hot toddies were served up and a place near the roaring hot fire set aside.  What a cheerful place it was after these hours of exposure to a bitter winter storm,  and how well the hotcakes,  coffee,  and bacon tasted,  and how right to the spot does the hot toddy find its way,  and how well did the tavern keeper and his good wife know how to soften the hearts of such travellers when they came to the ordinary with empty stomachs,  fussing and swearing over their time in the elements.
Oh! The weather outside is frightful. 
But the Raleigh Tavern looks cozy and delightful.
Another Web Cam Pic I copped off the internet
Still,  there were travel dangers and concerns,  as noted in the book The Colonial Tavern by Edward Field:  The winter winds and heavy snow discouraged travel,  and one unfortunate coach met a drift and overturned.  The last  'ordinary'  (tavern)  the coach had passed was five miles behind them,  and the next was five miles ahead,  and the storm's intensity was increasing.  The six passengers stood angrily staring at the overturned coach,  knowing that to remain would mean to freeze and that the nearest shelter was five miles in either direction.

Yet,  there were those who enjoyed the snow and cold.
So,  next up we have wonderful pictures taken by Fred Blystone of a few of the men and women who inhabit Williamsburg enjoying age-old winter fun.
Are they apparitions from long ago,  or are they modern day presenters...?
Picture courtesy of Fred Blystone

Picture courtesy of Fred Blystone

Picture courtesy of Fred Blystone

Picture courtesy of Fred Blystone

Picture courtesy of Fred Blystone
It's the magical photos such as what you see here that bring the past to life.
The enjoyment the young people were having is plain and clear,  and the idea of partaking in such wintertime activities,  of which might not be allowed elsewhere,  just awakens  the past like little else can.

I spy the home of the President of the 1st Continental Congress as well as a signer of the Declaration of Independence,  George Wythe:
Your shoes and/or boots were of leather,  giving 
little protection from the cold and snow that 
dampened them.
Photo courtesy of Samantha Morthorpe

Wetherburn's Tavern
This is one of the most thoroughly documented buildings in 
Williamsburg.  It was begun in the 1730s and completed with an 
addition in the 1750s.
Though it is no longer utilized as a tavern,  is presented as the one it once was,  allowing for tour groups to visit.
Photo courtesy of Patriot Podcast

The sun begins to set beyond the George Wythe House.
Photo courtesy of the Patriot Podcast

The night sky begins its reign...
The Charlton House
Wigmaker and barber,  Edward Charlton,  
moved into this home in 1769.  It is said that 
Mr.  Charlton himself may have built this house.
How beautiful it is as the night time sky 
begins to cover the land.
Photograph courtesy of the Patriot Podcast

Next let's head to Greenfield Village in Dearborn,  Michigan.
My winter-wear as I prepare
to visit Greenfield Village
Understand,  we in Michigan are used to having full-blown snowstorms.  Not just a few flurries,  but actual inches and feet of the white stuff,  falling as early as October and ending as late as May.  And,  contrary to popular belief,  many of us love the snow!
And when such a storm occurs,  if possible I will get the proper clothing and outerwear on and head directly over to the colonial end of Greenfield Village,  where all my favorite houses of the 18th century are situated near each other,  making for a small sort of vignette  of 18th century America.
On with my heavy woolen cloak,  thick stockings,  knit cap sometimes worn under my hat,  my mitts,  and,  of course,  wool waistcoat & coat over my heavy linen shirt help to keep a man warm on such a day.  My knit cap and mittens,  I am proud to say,  came from raw wool that my wife first sorted,  scoured,  then picked the dirt,  dung,  straw,  and other impurities out of,  hand-carded,  spun into yarn on her spinning wheel,  dyed with natural dyes  (I believe she used black walnut here),  then knitted.
Yes,  I am proud to wear them.
Winter wear stockings,  flannels,  double layered gowns,  petticoats,  shirts,  trousers,  and jackets all had to be altered and repaired after being stored away for the summer months,  while new items had to be made to replace those worn beyond repair.  Anne Eliza Clark thanked her mother for the yarn mitts,  which were of  “great service to me when I sweep my chamber and make my bed.”  Mittens were commonly worn inside as well as outside because,  in many cases,  there was little difference in the temperature. 
Now,  as you shall soon see,  I actually experienced a bit of colonial winter first-hand myself.

Written in a sort of story form,  we'll begin our time at Greenfield Village as the sun rises...
Welcome to the Daggett House,  built around 1750 and presented as the 1760s:
Good morning,  Colonial America,  how are ya?
Don't you know me?  I'm your native son...
(Photo of the sun rising over the Daggett Farm taken by Tom Kemper)

On a bitter cold January morning,  Thomas Chaplin wrote,  “The thermometer is down to 20 degrees in the house at eight in the morning,  and everything is frozen hard,  including eggs,  milk,  and ink,  and every piece of crockery that water was left in overnight is cracked.”
Wells were frozen up,  as it was for Samuel Lane in 1786 when 
he wrote that  "after the weather grew cold in winter,  water from 
the brooks were put into cellars to keep it from freezing for daily use."

(Though this picture could have been taken nearly anywhere in the colonies,  
it was taken at Colonial Williamsburg by Fred Blystone)

Preparing for the day at the Daggett home---
Could this be daughter Taletha cleaning the front stoop?
On the plus side,  this was the time to eat the fruits that were dried last summer and fall.  Because of radiant heat of an active central chimney,  the temperature in many attic spaces remained above freezing.  According to the author of Our Own Snug Fireside,  meal,  flour,  and dried foodstuffs such as corn,  apples,  pumpkins,  and herbs normally kept in cellars could sometimes be safely stored in attics regardless of how cold it became.  That is,  as long as the heat was sufficient enough,  for especially root vegetables such as carrots,  beets,  and potatoes would be damaged by extreme cold.  If they didn't freeze,  apples made into cider and applesauce or apple butter,  as well as the cucumbers and other vegetables that were pickled helped to sustain the farmer and his family,  as did the meats and fish that were salted.  Do you remember the root crops such as carrots,  parsnips,  and turnips that were put into the root cellar last October?  Now is the time to begin enjoying them a little here and there,  for they should hopefully last into the spring,  if at all possible.

Traveling on horseback~
Taking a tour of the planting fields - - Spring can't be too far off...

As I roamed the area,  I stopped at the Plympton home.  It is unfortunate that 90% of the house is plexi-glassed off,  so unless the camera angle is just right,  lots of glare will be seen,  though once in a great while I can hide the reflection.
Needless to say,  most of my pictures in and around this early 18th century house are exterior.
The Plympton House was built by Thomas Plympton in the early 1700s.

This is winter - - - -
These pictures will cool you off on a 90 degree day!

Inside the Plympton House.
Venturing out into an 18th c winter.

(The mat is there to protect the ancient wood floor boards)

Next we will take our leave to a more upscale colonial structure.
Here we have the home of John Giddings,  who was a shipping merchant and, 
therefore,  could enjoy the better fineries in life.
Mr.  Giddings had this house built in the mid-18th century.

As you can see,  the young lady - a Giddings presenter - was 
wearing a shawl to help stave off the cold.  It was not unusual to 
wear layers of outerwear while inside during the cold months of winter.
Harriet Beecher Stowe warned that  “whoever touched a door-latch incautiously in the early morning received a skinning bite from Jack Frost,”  while Harriet Martineau recalled those winter mornings when  “everything you touch seems to blister your fingers with cold.”
I believe our ancestors would be amazed at the idea that 
normal wintertime temperatures inside a 21st century 
home is anywhere from 68 to 72 degrees.

(By the way,  no,  I did not actually put the wood into the fire.  I picked it up and held it at
a pretty good distance away.  I know better than to do such a thing that is against 
regulations,  and I certainly would not post a photo of it!)
In 18th century colonial America,  many would cover their front doors with blankets or by pulling a curtain across to keep out the cold.
I also enjoyed an opportunity to warm up at the hearth.  I grew 
up with a fireplace in my home and spent many cold winter days 
and nights enjoying the heat emanating from the hot blaze,  
though as a child my clothing was more t-shirt and jeans rather 
than the style of my 18th century ancestors.
Dressing in period clothing is a joy for me,  as those who read this blog know.  But when you are around others who also dress in clothing of the same era,  it always seems to complete the picture.  Whether they are other reenactors or presenters in a historic museum,  it is always a better story.
Jordan  is the presenter standing with me inside the
Giddings everyday parlor/sitting room.
She and I always enjoyed a fine conversation
during these visits.  

Unfortunately,  she no longer works inside the
homes at the Village - she is now in the offices.

~A cozy winter's eve~
The flickering flames can arouse an inner warmth,  
giving solace to the inhabitants.
I was invited to spend the evening with the Giddings family.
For those with an upper floor bed chamber,  there seemed to be little difference from the outside;  in 1793,  Abner Spanger spent time clearing his attic bed chambers of snow!
William Davis recalled that  “fires in chambers were,  in my day,  far from being universal,  (and I)  never slept in a heated chamber,  except when sick,  until sixteen years of age.”
And here's another story of  winter's cold:  "No wonder that in winter  (a)  tall four poster  (bed)  was sheltered with heavily woven linen or wool curtains under the more decorative hangings of picture chintz.  Bitterly cold and drafty,  in zero weather,  must have been the rooms whose only warmth was that which could escape from the adjacent rooms.  
Heavy bed hangings were a winter necessity.  My father and his brother...have told me that on cold nights,  after the fires had been covered,  the wind often blew in great gusts down the wide-throated chimney,  and that then the bed-curtains,  heavy as they were,  'blew like handkerchiefs in a gale'  and they were glad enough of the additional protection for their ears and heads of warm nightcaps knitted by grandmother,  mother,  or cousin from the yarn even then still spun at home from the wool of their own sheep."
Bed warmer
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 in.
But 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."
Sleeping 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.  Many were so used to sleeping with others that sleeping partners were often sought out.
Of course,  sleeping with a marriage partner was the most desirable way;  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 ______."


Morning has broken,  and a winter storm is a-brewing,  so it was time to make it back to what is,  perhaps,  my favorite home in Greenfield Village,  the Daggett  (saltbox)  house.
The snowstorm had hit - - it's wintertime at Daggett!

I offered to help with any winter chores that might need doing.
I suppose if I had the money to spend on whatever I'd like,  building a house like this would be in my top ten...and then filling it with authentic or well-replicated furniture and accessories would be an extension of that dream.
But,  for now,  I have to live vicariously through visiting moments in time.

Inside the great hall of the Daggett home,  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.
On cold,  wintery gray days activities could be limited to basic 
chores.  Singing and storytelling – as well as discussing 
the latest news,  reading or telling Bible stories & family 
history tales - while doing the necessary jobs were popular ways 
to pass time.  For us here on this day inside the Daggett's great 
hall,  a history lesson on making colonial-era chocolate was the 
topic discussed.

The days are much shorter this time of year,  as you know,  and before I knew it,  the afternoon sky had deepened,  and soon after,  night time had returned.
As the cold evening air dips well below the freezing mark,  the 
fire in the hearth serves a dual purpose:  for warmth and for 
cooking the food for supper.

One evening in late December 2017,  I,  once again,  visited historic Greenfield Village while wearing my clothing from the 1770s.  I had my linen shirt,  a woolen waistcoat,  woolen coat,  linen knee-breeches,  wool stockings,  wool homespun,  home dyed,  homemade knitted mittens,  leather buckle shoes,  and cocked hat.  I also wore my woolen cloak,  which works very well,  I must say.  The temperature on this night was in the single digits and the wind blew harshly,  but my upper chest area was warm,  thankfully,  due to my cloak,  though below my knees was quite cold.  Upon entering the historic Daggett home,  I,  similar to the McGuffey Cabin hearth,  warmed myself near the great hall hearth,  which,  once again,  truly did give me an understanding of how our ancestors must have felt on such a bitter cold  (albeit dry)  night,  for the heat emanating from the fire at that moment felt better than any other warming device could,  including a modern forced-air furnace.  My toes in those leather buckle shoes were biting - they ached like I never felt them ache before - and it took a while for the  "thaw"  to take place,  but they,  too,  came back to life,  though were still pain-filled.
I could feel the warmth of the fire engulf me as I stood in front of 
the great hall hearth inside the colonial Daggett saltbox house - 
not too close,  mind you! - and I appreciated it on this extreme 
bitter night like I never had done before.
Being out in the single digit temps and harsh winds for over four 
hours in period clothing once again certainly gave me more of an 
understanding,  appreciation,  and a deeper respect for our 
ancestors and the way they survived.
There was also great danger with flames about.  In 1794 Mary Tyler writes of one such dangerous occurrence when the fire had gone out:  "Lucifer matches had not yet been invented,  and to save herself the trouble of striking fire in a tinderbox,  (mother)  awoke little George,  gave him a pair of small light tongs,  and bid him to run to the next neighbor's house  (to get)  a fine lively coal in his little tongs.  The sun made it appear as if the coal had gone out,  and he lifted up the tongs to blow it and keep it alive;  the action broke the coal and half of it fell into his bosom,  and lodged near his hip."
His clothing caught fire and the child was terribly burned.  Fortunately,  he did recover after many weeks of agony.

Preparing the cooking fire in the Daggett kitchen~
Then there's the keeping of food,  which can prove to be a difficult task.  For Mary Tyler,  in 1794,  "it was very inconvenient,  the fire in the kitchen had been out for hours and everything was frozen.  We concluded that a cup of tea,  some toast and cheese would do"   - but all had to be thawed first.
Buried in nighttime blackness in the wintertime 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.
“A forest of logs,  heaped up and burning in the great chimney,  could not warm the other side of the kitchen.  Aunt Lois,  standing with her back so near the blaze as to be uncomfortably warm,  found her dish towel freezing in her hand.”
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."
"The 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  

Traditionally,  the first Monday after Epiphany  (or 12th Night – the 6th of January),  was called Plow Monday because it was the day when men returned to their plows,  or daily work,  following the Christmas Holiday.  It was customary at this time for farm laborers to draw a plow through the village,  soliciting money for a  "plow light,"  which was kept burning in the parish church all year.
Sometimes falling on the same day as Plow Monday was Distaff Day  (January 7).  This was when women were expected to return to their spinning following the Christmas tide.  A distaff is the staff that women used for holding the flax or wool in spinning.  Hence,  the term  "distaff"  refers to women's work or the maternal side of the family.
This following traditional verse captures the spirit of both long-forgotten special January days:
“Yule is come and Yule is gone
and we have feasted well;
so Jack must to his flail again
and Jenny to her wheel.”
"The demands of winter cast a long shadow before them,  well into the waning summer.  Mothers taught daughters how to card wool and coax soft fibers from the hard stems of flax;  how to spin fibers into threads;  how to stitch and mend the heavy coats and hooded cloaks that soon must ward off the biting winds.  Cloth scraps and worn-out clothing found new life in quilts and coverlets.  Finer stuff went into quilted petticoats to keep a lady warm."
David Robinson
Weaving on a loom in the great hall of the Daggett House
What was unfortunate for the woman who attempted to do her necessary daily chores such as spinning or weaving was the difficulty in performing this task inside a crowded room with frozen fingers.
Now,  according to historian Eric Sloane,  because they were used to natural and candle light far more than we are,  our ancestors could work in a low level of lighting much easier and more comfortably than we can today.  So spinning on the great wheel or weaving on a loom on a dark evening wasn't as difficult as you might think


Upon awakening the next morning,  we had one final stop to complete our wintertime colonial tour: an old frontier Pennsylvania log cabin - the birthplace of William Holmes McGuffey,  the author of one of the most popular schoolbooks of the 19th century,  the Eclectic Readers,  first published in 1836.
According to sources at the Benson Ford Research Center,  there 
is a strong probability that this cabin was built by William’s 
maternal grandparents,  William and Jane Holmes,  in 1789.
The daughter of William & Jane - Anna Holmes  (aged 21) - and her husband,  Alexander McGuffey  (aged 30),  began their married life in this log home.  While living there they had their first three children:  Jane  (1799),  William  (1800),  and Henry  (1802).  Yes,  there were quite a few people inside such a tiny cabin.
A fire is needed on a cold winter day...
Yes,  this was a daytime picture but the thick heavy clouds 
forced dark shadows to reign.
"Piles of firewood were cut and stacked in the warmer months for heat in cooler times and for cooking year round.  Corncobs were saved for smaller fires,  or for an extra touch of flavor in hams and bacon smoked over them.  If the fire went out,  flint and steel could spark a new one,  or a child could scamper to a neighbor and bring home a hot coal in a cook pot or a tray of green bark."
David Robinson
Here comes the sun~
Gathering wood under the mound of snow...look closely...
"Winter is a good time to cut and get up a year’s stock of firewood.  Farmers at this season have less work to perform and wood is easier loaded and drawn when there is good sleighing,  than in summer.  But remember one thing:  Don’t attempt to warm all creation,  by working hard to chop and haul fire-wood,  and at the same time leave your dwelling so open that the cold wind will rush in on all sides.  By all means make your house comfortable.  Bank it up and have all of its walls tight with good non-conductors of heat.  While taking good care of those in-doors that can can talk,  and tell their wants,  never forget the dumb brutes in your barn-yard and stables.  The merciful man is merciful to his beast.”
-- Editor,  Genesee Farmer
And now warming myself beside the hearth in that tiny cabin.
Back in the later part of the 18th century we find that surviving the winters of long,  long ago was more than sitting by a hot fire trying to warm ourselves.  January was the month that the cellar or even the smokehouse was to be replenished with apples and late-season vegetables,  packed in sawdust or sand.  Pigs had to be killed,  sausages made,  and barrels of pork and ham put down.  Pies were baked in large quantity to be kept frozen in the storeroom,  the garret,  the guest chamber,  or the closed–up parlor.  One diarist  was happy to note that she  “now completed all the winter jobs of sausages,  pork,  putting down hams,  making candles, & mince pies.”
18th-century settlers made the appropriate preparations for winter by gathering up the dried meats,  fruits,  and beans as well as root vegetables that had been stored since the fall harvest.  They would then throw all of these ingredients into a pot to make a hearty if not always appetizing stew.
With the right preparation of supplies, transport, and heating sources, the more rural residents of the 18th century made the best of  the cold winter months,  and they survived.
Cooking dinner over the hearth.
I recollect a nasty storm with a wintery mix occurring while I was at Greenfield Village a few years ago during their wonderful Holiday Nights event in late December.  It all began with a cold rain which turned into ice pellets and then ended up becoming a slushy mix of rain and snow with a howling wind a-blowing,  spraying all with the cold wetness as it fell from the sky.
It was a damp biting-cold mess,  that's for sure.
The roads were slick,  with traffic moving slow along the interstate.  But I do not let such weather prevent me from attending a fine event as this.  Besides,  it was the last night...and no refunds.
So away I went,  dressed in my 1770s period clothing.  After a short walk from the parking lot to the Village entrance,  and then again along the streets inside the gates,  I was soon soaked,  from my leather buckled shoes up to my tricorn   (cocked)  hat.  I must admit,  I was not having much fun and considered leaving.  But I stayed and made the best of it,  stopping at various locations,  trying to make a feeble attempt to warm up and maybe even dry off,  to little avail.  There were very few people at Holiday Nights that night because of the weather,  so my visits at the houses were less crowded and somewhat extended.  However,  continuing along the slushy Village streets,  my toes numbing,  I became much colder and more soaked.
I had enough - it was time to leave.
It was as I made my way toward the exit when I noticed the smoke rising out of the chimney of the McGuffey Cabin.  Okay...one more stop,  so I sought solace inside.  Opening the door of this 18th century frontier home,  I saw and felt a warm fire blazing with only a single presenter sitting near the fireplace.  Seeing the wet mess I had become,  she beckoned me in to sit on the bench near the roaring fire and to dry off.
How the cozy cabin looked as I peeked inside while the winter mix blew outside.
So there I sat,  my digital camera in hand  (the only modern item about),  feeling very similar to what our ancestors must have felt in the same situation.  The warming glow from the candles and hearth were inviting.  The presenter could tell I was pretty miserable.  But,  the heat emanating from the fire felt so  good,  especially as I could see and hear the wind-swept pellets beating -tap! tap! tap! tap! tap!- against the logs and lone window.  I could even hear the sizzling that each drop made as it came through the chimney and landed in the fire.
With very few visitors entering,  I stayed...and got warm...and,  as the presenter and I had a fine conversation centering on history  (of course),  I actually dried off.
It was one of the most magical living history moments I had,  and it happened without trying,  as if I were in the past of over 230 years ago...
The two pictures above and a few below were snapped that very night while I was hold up,  drying off,  and warming inside the small cabin;  it could have been 1789:
The blazing fire certainly put out the warmth.  I was soon feeling the dampness leave
my clothing,  thus allowing me to warm as well.


There were two candles to light the room in the
cabin.  Mrs.  McGuffey would not have been so
wasteful as to burn two candles as well as have
a fire in the hearth.  In such a small one-room
home,  the fireplace would have been plenty.

But,  being that this was Holiday Nights,  I understand
why the candles were lit:  atmosphere!
And for visitors to be able to see other parts of the room.

I saw opportunities for some fine period-atmosphere pictures.   

Note the young lady is wearing multiple layers
of clothing for warmth.

And this may be my favorite out of  'em all.
With nothing but the cool darkness surrounding
her,  this also most likely has the most accurate look.
Yes,  this was absolutely one of the most magical experiences I've ever had while in period clothing.
I felt that I was  "there" - - -

But,  alas,  my time here was nigh and I needed to make my way back to the 21st century...  
But my appreciation for those who have been grows at every experience I participate in...

I hope this pictorial journey  (with primary source text)  through an 18th century winter has given you an idea of what our ancestor's lives were like during what was,  perhaps,  the toughest time of the year.  So,  before we leave,  let's take one more look at main street - Duke of Gloucester - in late winter,  with the knowledge that a new season was about to show---
The melting snow let's us know that spring is nigh in 
Williamsburg as well...
Photo courtesy of Christine McLynn

We should welcome the months from December through March and the snow & cold that comes with them rather than complain.  It is a natural seasonal cycle for us who live in the north and we should embrace it.
I most certainly do - more than the dank humid heat of summer,  that's for certain.
And I find it even more enticing when I,  as a living historian  (and social historian)  can experience it as well.

With that being said,  until next time,  see you in time.


History Magazine - December/January 2000
Coping With the Cold By David Robinson
And THIS site as well 

All Greenfield Village photos were taken by me or by someone else with my camera,  except for the sunrise over Daggett picture,  which was taken,  upon my request,  by Greenfield Village worker Tom Kemper.
All Colonial Williamsburg photos have the name of the photographer beneath each picture.


For more on colonial lighting,  click HERE
For more on historic lighting in general,  click HERE
For reading on Nighttime: Living in the Age of Candles in Colonial Times,  click HERE

And here are links to some of the Greenfield Village structures that I've written about in this post: 

And if you are interested in the series I wrote on my 2016 vacation to Colonial Williamsburg,  click HERE

Be sure to tune into Patriot Podcast - -


















  









~   ~   ~




1 comment:

Historical Ken said...

These are some of the wonderful kind comments I received from so many people when I posted this on Facebook:

“Wonderful job. Thank you for sharing. The pictures are beautiful and your description told in small moments of colonial life are very eloquent.”

“What a great winter story.”

“This was so informative and brought me right back in time....Thank you so much!”

“Thoroughly enjoyed this. Thank you and thank you!!”

“Very well done and a visual treat!”

“Excellent articles. My journey back to 1770s Williamsburg is complete.”

“I can't begin to tell you how much I have enjoyed seeing these pictures, along with your commentary.”

“The description of coming inside to a lifesaving fire had me enthralled. I could feel every moment.”

“I loved this post, especially the snow ball fight in Williamsburg!”

“Well done! And the pictures were fantastic!”

“This is an excellent article. I do wish that Greenfield Village was open in the winter. I, for one, would attend. :) Perhaps you could put in a good word, Ken.”

“Time travel . . .”