Sunday, May 16, 2021

A Day In the Life: Spending Time in Spring 1771

~ Probably the most important thing I've learned in doing living history is that as soon as you start to think of the past as happening  (as opposed to it having happened),  a new way of conceiving history becomes possible ~

Like many wonderful things,  the initial idea came from a dream;  an actual dream where I was in the great hall of the Daggett House while in my 18th century clothing.  Now,  I've been in that house in period clothing before,  but in my dream it suddenly morphed into a log cabin - the Waterloo cabin,  believe it or not - and I was there as a living historian.  It was snowing outside like crazy,  and when it was time to leave,  the snow was too deep for us to even move our cars,  much less make the attempt to drive the long distance home.  Turning on the car radio the news reports told us that the roads were closed and that the snow was going to continue falling throughout the next 24 hours.  
We weren't going anywhere.
So there we were,  stuck inside this one-room log cabin,  with only our period clothing to wear,  
the only heat coming from the hearth,  the only light from our candles,  and no one able to come 
and help us.
And then I woke up.
But I awakened with a pretty good idea in my head;
it was that dream that set me on the course of finding a way to experience life in the 18th century in such a manner that I've never done before - and I knew just the place to do it.
And that,  my friends,  is how this  "A Day In The Life"  series in my living history experiences began.
Now for part three:

.....  .....  .....

The colonial ancestors of the
Victorian Logan Family.
I enjoy Victorian pretty well.  It was reenacting that era that helped me to hone my interpretive and immersive skills.  But it's the colonial period - especially the last half of the 18th century - that I truly love the most;  to be amongst the first generations of be with the Common Folk of the period that produced the Declaration of Independence...that's what excites me...just to be a part of the founding generation.  
I will repeat myself:  probably the most important thing I've learned in doing living history is that as soon as you start to think of the past as happening  (as opposed to it having happened),  a new way of conceiving history becomes possible.
This is what we try to do while at the frontier cabin;  the past is now.
So in the picture to the left you have the Logan family.  You may recall having met their 1860s descendants at the Charlton Park event  and Christmas at the Fort and Farm.  Well,  here are the roots - the ancestors  - of that great American family,  and how they survived a hundred years earlier.
You see,  so far in this  "A Day In the Life"  series,  we have spent a day in Autumn 1770 and Winter 1771.  Well,  we're back at it once again,  but now we are in the Springtime of 1771,  preparing for the coming growing season.
Here is our backstory: 
'Twas a year ago that we removed ourselves from our land not too distant from Boston due to the growing commotion there of late,  which weighs heavily on our minds;  with the taxes and Townsend duties,  which were repealed last year,  there have been some discourse between some colonists and the King's soldiers and the Crown itself.  The talk of war,  some of which feel might be imminent,  is minimal,  and those very few dangerous men who have mentioned anything along the lines of separating ourselves from the Crown have been called treasonists.  I,  myself,  have not met one of them who would dare to think of  sedition,  nor do I wish to.  Now,  I have read in broadsides about those who have shown anger toward the Redcoated Regulars parading throughout Boston town who have thrown their might against its citizens,  especially when the terrible news came forth on the Bloody Massacre occurrence from a year ago,  which concerned and still concerns us greatly. 
And that is why I,  a man little affected personally by the commotion who lives a daily life in the fight just to survive in growing a fruitful crop,  made the decision for my household to settle in the relative quiet of Connecticut,  away from the displeasure in Massachusetts,  and built our cabin to begin a new life farming the fertile land there.  
Spring has always been a time for preparing for the rest of the year;  a time for a new beginning.  A time for leaving the winter darkness & cold for sun,  warmth  & renewal.  We shall continue this,  with the Grace of our Lord.
So our minds on this day,  May 8,  1771,  are to look to the future and of the coming growing season.
This is our story - our back story.  Each time we spend at the cabin we make a valiant attempt to recreate history in a very real way.  Today's posting tells how our time in Spring 1771 went  (every picture tells a story):
Larissa commented to me that returning to the cabin felt like going home.
She was right,  and I believe each of us who took part would agree that upon arriving on that morning it really did feel that way.  After all,  we treat it as if it were our home.

The day began as most days,  with the building up of the fire in the hearth that had been banked the night before.

The 1771 almanack - a much needed piece of reading material,  second only to the Bible.
I am beaming proud of the fact that the string you see binding this almanac together was made from raw flax that last January,  right here in this cabin,  was turned into linen thread - from breaking to scutching to hackling to spinning.

For today's excursion into the past here at the cabin,  we would,  for the first time,  be having outside visitors come to watch us,  for it was Free Museum Day in Jackson County,  and plenty of history lovers were expected.  So we decided to set up historical yet eye-pleasing little vignettes for them to take notice of upon entering the cabin.
For Larissa,  Jackie,  and I  (and more recently,  Charlotte,  our newest member)  we've been the Logan's of the 1860s for a number of years and we are quite used to having visitors,  but this would be a first for us as the colonial  1771 Logan family.  
My gun,  pouch,  powder horn,  and costrel waiting by the door.
Oh,  and my hat,  too!
Larissa set up her own vignette.
Since there would be visitors on this day,  she decided for a more  "appetizing"  display.

God called men and women to perform particular tasks or work in this life:  women were invariably domestic and were called to be devoted to home life,  and men were called to specific work as farmers,  carpenters,  coopers,  blacksmiths,  and so on.  This was the colonial thought process.
Reaching high into the corners.
Though it may not had been called  "spring cleaning"  at the time,  all of my research material tends to agree there was most likely a  "turning out of the winter dirt"  when warmer weather finally hit after months of winter;  an annual ritual as we know it to be,  if only by action and not by name.  The constant fires for cooking and warmth combined with long hours of candlelight deposited ashes,  smoke,  and soot on nearly every surface...the hearth had been the center of activity for months,  and the remnants of spinning,  sewing,  whittling,  cooking,  and other wintertime activities are in desperate need to be cleared away. 
And Charlotte,  who portrays Larissa's sister,  took to this task with vim.  A good example is what you see here,  for on the frontier one used whatever they could for sweeping and dusting.
But she was keeping with the times,  for American brooms were hand-made prior to 1797.  They were an unrefined round broom made from fibrous materials such as grass,   straw or hay,  fine twigs,  or corn husks.  The broom sweep was tied onto a tree branch for a handle.   Cordage used to tie the broom was retted from hemp and flax.  Rougher fibers were used to make the cordage that tied a broom.  The refined fibers were used for linens.
Charlotte made the broom sweep you see in the photos from soft twigs bound together tightly with twine and then fitted over a broom handle of sorts.  She said she was amazed at how well it removed cobwebs and was able to get up high into the rafters with it.  
Though it was shedding a few little leaves here and there, 
it was amazingly effective at sweeping out the cabin and the stoop. 

...her red clay cleaner.
Charlotte preparing...
As Charlotte wrote in her reflection:  Vinegar.  Vinegar was the great cleanser sanitizer of the era.  I was able to clean our windows with vinegar and water,  which did a great job.  In fact,  we were lucky to have windows as most log cabins maybe had one.  I was also able to make red clay dust by rubbing 2 halves of a brick together.  This dust,  dipped with the vinegar-soaked cloth,  made a great scouring agent in removing the soot from the bottom of my brass work pans

This is a great example of putting your research to work. 
And so Charlotte also cleaned the windows after her dusting.
In America,  it wasn’t until the 18th century that windows were widely regarded as architectural,  not just practical,  components of houses.
By the end of the 1700s,  the use of glass windows
 - except for very humble dwellings  (as Charlotte mentioned) - was common.
When we moved to rural Connecticut and built this cabin,  I had been able to procure and bring a number of windows,  for I knew we would want to utilize as much natural light,  rather than candles or Betty Lamp,  as we could.
The day before our time here,  and the day after,  it rained...and it rained good.
However,  on our Saturday at the cabin we had mostly sunny skies with
a few puffs of clouds. 

I asked for snippets and thoughts from the ladies here about our day in spring 1771,  and Jackie replied with:
I wanted to try some colonial receipts  (recipes).  It’s a little nervous trying new recipes on guinea pigs... oops!  I mean friends.  I was happy the cake & gingerbread turned out well.  However,  I was really unsure about the bread on the hearth.  And then Ken and Larissa went out to plant.  I really got worried,  but the timing with the planting worked out well.  And then every time I needed to do something else with the bread,  I ended up speaking with visitors!  But that worked out well,  too
So,  before we went out to the flax patch for planting,  Larissa and Jackie began the preparations for our dinner,  including guiding Jackie in her bread making.
One of the things about our time-travel experiences is that our food,
 for the most part,  is prepared here at the cabin,  and all of it is cooked
over the hearth.  That means everything to us.

And even though we had visitors,  it was still an immersion experience.  Speaking with the guests more or less solidified our experiences,  for we not only spoke of our chores but of our back story on leaving Boston for the rural cabin.

After our wintertime excursion this past January,  Arlene from the Waterloo Historical Society,  upon seeing the Passion for the Past post I wrote about how we actually processed flax from raw flax to linen thread,  asked if we might be interested in planting flax in the spring to be harvested in later summer.  In this way we could do the complete flax process from start to finish.
But of course we would!
So when I got a hold of  living history members of  Citizens of the American Colonies to make sure they were on board - they were! - we began our plans almost immediately.  We refreshed ourselves with the activities of an 18th century farm in the springtime and shared our thoughts and ideas about our day.  Since we would,  once again,  only be there for a day,  Waterloo made sure a patch of ground would be prepared for sowing.  It would have been absolutely wonderful  to have played a part in that process by way of a horse and plow,  for plowing is an unbroken link to the past.  The plow,  of course,  breaks up and turns over the soil to make it smoother for planting.  It is one of the oldest of farm tools.
Unfortunately,  we were not able to do this.  But who knows?  It may be a possibility in the future.
Larissa and I as we head toward what will soon be the flax patch.

Charlotte took this picture looking through the cabin window.

So Larissa and I,  being the  "heads of the household,"  planned and began our flax garden.  Of course we used period farm tools.
The rake I used happened to be a hay rake,  but it worked very well with the clumps of grass laying within the dirt.

And so it begins.

I am living out my Daggett Dream!
To be able to do what we've been doing at the cabin...well...this is so much more than I could have ever asked for.

On spring-plowed fields it was heavy traveling for the farmer who carried grain
and sowed by hand.
We spent most of the day out in that field,  sowing.
It was a good feeling.

Planting the crop was a critical step with no room for error.  For hundreds of years,  farmers sowed grain by hand;  shouldering a bag of seed,  the farmer walked up and down the tilled field,  fingering the seeds from side to side. 
In my case,  on all fours.

 And the farmer who sowed the seed had special skills in this operation.
"Of course,  it was heavy work,  even traveling over fall-plowed ground,  with the grain hung over the shoulders,  and the steady swing of the right arm throwing the grain as the right foot advanced,  and dipping the hand into the bag for another cast of grain as the left foot advanced."
The special skill needed resulted in the seed being sown evenly leaving no bare areas. 
Missing a section of a field could cause a huge problem:  no seed in the ground,  no crop.
But the sowing process and outcome was frustrating at best.  There is an old proverb that I recall hearing in my youth from my own farming grandfather that best describes the planting of seeds:
One for the mouse,
one for the crow,
one to rot,
and one to grow.
The flax-production began in the spring,  as Matthew Patton,  a New Hampshire farmer,  did on May 18,  1787  when he reported in his diary:  "I sowed about 1 of a bushel of flax seed and I suppose near as many pease."   The very same day,  150 miles away in Hallowell,  Maine,  Martha Ballard's husband was engaged in similar work:  "Clear...Mr.  Ballard ploughed flax in,"  she wrote.  Since the seed was light,  it took skill to distribute it evenly and well. 

Farmers Larissa & Ken~
Our preparation and planting of flax will be more of an experiment than anything.  Much of its growth will depend on God's good graces for enough rain,  and for no varmints to eat the seeds,  for no one actually lives on the complex to watch it too closely.  I am planning to head back during the summer - possibly more than one time  (and,  yes,  in period clothing - gotta keep it authentic!) - to weed and give extra care.  Others coming along would be great.

But it wasn't just Larissa and I who planted - - - 
Charlotte,  taking a break from cleaning,  had her turn out in the field...
As she wrote:  "
Glad I got to put in some flaxseed.  I can’t wait till late summer to see
this crop popping up."  

As did Jackie,  who also did her part away from the hearth.

Being that when we are at the cabin I sort of emulate my  "average 18th century farm hero,"  Samuel Daggett,  I try to make it a point to attempt to do what he would have done. 
Including watering the flax we had just planted. 
I purchased the two buckets,  which are beeswax lined,  from Lehman's.
The yoke I found at a reenactor's garage sale  (they were getting out of the hobby).
The rope was handmade from a Lac Ste. Claire Voyageur rope-maker friend.
Yep...really trying to do it right!
The bucket's were filled...and it was heavy!
As there were no hoses for watering in the 18th century,  the only way to get the water
to the seeds was by way of water buckets and the yoke.

Now,  as for my watering jug...
They've been using this watering jug for years at the Daggett House at Greenfield Village.  I then saw one very similar to what I have here being used on one of the British-made farm documentaries - either Tudor Farm or Tales From the Green Valley  (1620)  farm. 
So...I had to have one

For this day visitors were allowed to come and see the Waterloo farm and cabin.  This gave us the opportunity to present and to teach,  which is something we do greatly enjoy.  As you can see,  I let some of the kids try out the water buckets and yoke,  though the buckets were,  at this point,  only filled about a quarter of the way so it was not too heavy.  The kids really enjoyed it and got a great feel for what it would have been like
to get water and/or milk  (after milking the cow).

A few kids even helped us water the freshly planted flax seeds by using the watering jug.  I love giving the opportunity for hands-on helping experiences.  It's this sort of thing that helped to entice my own kids to love history.

I made a slight sort of faux pas upon completing the planting and watering;  I needed stakes to place around the patch to keep people from stepping in it,  so I asked one of the historical society members there if they had any I could use.
No big deal,  right?
Except if I was an 18th century farmer,  I would not ask for stakes---I would make my own instead.
So that's just what I did: 
I stepped to the edge of the woods and found some decent-sized tree branches to  
cut down with my hand-axe.

I then chopped one end of each branch down to a point
to pound into the ground.
Once the four corners were set,  I tied twine around each.  It may not stop deer or other animals,  but hopefully it will let people know not to enter.
The four of us all took part in the planting of the flax.
We have high hopes to harvest it in the late summer or early fall.

Back inside the cabin,  the ladies were cooking our dinner on the hearth - - - 
And there we see the bread,  front and center.  
The cabin smelled wonderful!
The colonial kitchen had a   
"warm,  glowing heart that spread light and welcome,  and made the poor room a home.  (It)  was the most cheerful,  homelike,  and picturesque room in the house..."  Alice Morse Earle

Larissa checks to make sure it is done.
It was!

From Jackie:
I was so excited to see how well the bread turned out - it was delicious if I do say so myself!  I will gladly do bread again. 
I need to research more colonial receipts. 
This is one right proud lady with some
darn good bread!

In the 18th century,  whether you were the royal governor of Virginia or a poor farmer,  bread was an important staple in the diet.  The type of bread and amount of bread in one's diet might vary.  The gentry preferred refined white flour for use in their bread while the lower classes relied on whole wheat flour.

Charlotte and Jackie.
Food preparation was an all-day affair. 
No buying 
an instant cake nor burning a frozen steak. 
The only little helper mother had were other family members.

Our tables are set up for dinner.  Nothing fancy but they work for a multitude of things.

...we prayed before partaking of our meal.
As all good Christians...

Charlotte wrote:
We finished the day with a supper of a main course of  “root soup”  which is a combination of vegetables from the root cellar.  Mainly butter,  potatoes,  carrots and onions simmered together with a little bit of water.  We added some milk at the finish,  shaved cheese and some diced,  smoked ham from the smokehouse.  Found some fresh chive that had started growing,  and I chopped it fine and added it to the soup as well.  Finding those spring greens for a nice  “sallet”  along with the soup was most welcome as a sure sign of spring and an end to the long cold winter.

Our food was mostly seasonal to mid-May.
The asparagus picked from the Daggett garden one week after.
Jackie said that,  "All the food was great.  It was much different from our previous times as this time we had visitors." 
And because it was a springtime celebration, 
we also had dessert.
By the time we sat down for dinner,  the majority of visitors had left so we were able to eat in relative peace  (lol). was actually great to have the public to speak with - I believe each one of us enjoyed sharing our knowledge and speaking of our plight in Boston,  along with talking about our daily chores and activities.  I believe the public enjoyed our scenario as well.
But I'm not lying when I say it was a laborious day for me,  not unlike the previous two times at the cabin.
I must admit that in my 21st century life I do not physically labor very hard,  for I am a teacher's aid in a classroom...(though working with students mentally wipes me out!).  
However,  on this day with all the sowing for the flax patch,  it was definitely physical labor that I haven't been used to in quite a while,  and I had to lay on the bed for a short while---just to get the sleep out of my eyes---and I ended up actually falling asleep for about 20 minutes!  Well,  unbeknownst to me,  while I was sleeping Larissa snuck my camera out and took a picture.
Yeah...she's just getting me back for some that I've taken of her,  I'm sure... 
I suppose I should be grateful that I didn't awaken to find myself literally in the past!
Or in a snowstorm!
I've had those dreams before,  you know.
I suppose that's not too uncommon for living historians.

I truly enjoy bringing history to life with these people.  Larissa and I have been reenacting in the 1st person/immersion capacity since Christmas at the Fort 2009,  Jackie and I since Charlton Park 2013,  and Charlotte much more recently...since the 4th of July 2018 at Mill Race Village. 
And we all learn from each other...we all help each other.
We make the attempt to act like an 18th century family,  with their morals and values as well,  and we make the gallant attempt to keep the 21st century social mores at bay.  We've all researched and read enough diaries and journals of the time to help guide our departure from modern times in as accurate a way as we can. 
Though contemporary topics sometimes seep into conversation,  we usually will call each other out when it happens.
Oh yeah...I cannot lie...I've been called out.
But that's good,  for it's something to work on - a goal to be reached.
To a very large extent,  my dream of experiencing life in colonial times has come true - and it continues to do so.  Many years ago when my wife and I first began visiting Greenfield Village,  we would ogle at the presenters as they would do the chores of  150 or 250 years earlier:  spinning,  plowing,  cooking,  and all of the other necessities of the old life and ways,  especially at the 1760 Daggett house.  And we would talk about all we saw as we drove home and how neat it would be to be able to do such historic work from the time of our ancestors.
Dreams do come true...
Doing farm work as if it were the 18th century...
(Slight modification on this photo by changing up the distant background to the
left of the cabin.)
It has been a want for me to work at Greenfield Village since I was a young adult,  but I just could not afford to quit my higher-paying job to do so.  
What I would've given to work at the Daggett House!  
However,  I believe what we as a group  (and me personally)  have been doing at the cabin is probably as close as I'll ever get to representing and emulating Samuel Daggett.
But in a way what I am able to do here with these great ladies may even be better for me than working at the Daggett house!  I've been getting true experience gained from the shared knowledge of the four of us and applying it.
As Jackie put it:  "It met all my" 

Until next time,  see you in time.

Many,  many thanks to the Waterloo Historical Society,  especially Arlene,  Ron,  and Brian,  for their trust and allowance in us to  "live in"  and care for the cabin as if it was our own.
Like Larissa said,  we feel like it is our home.

Also,  thank you to Larissa,  Charlotte,  Arlene,  and also visitor Bob Jacobs for allowing me to use their photographs in combination of my own to enhance this posting.  We can relive this experience over and over now!

To read about our wintertime excursion at the cabin,  click HERE
To read about our autumn excursion at the cabin,  click HERE
To read about flax and other textiles,  please click HERE
To read about the Daggett's and their home,  please click HERE and HERE
To read about how I try to emulate a colonial feel in my own home,  please click HERE
To learn more about a colonial spring on the farm,  please click HERE

~   ~   ~


Barbara Rogers said...

This was so enjoyable to read about...and to consider all the work you and the women did. I hope the dinner was as good tasting as it looked. I had many early ancestors in the New England colonies, as well as in Virginia. But the New Englanders seemed to have more information from their history to pass down to their decedents. There were also the Native Americans to deal with, and I guess Kind Phillips War is something you're already aware of. I never learned about it in my American History classes. But I do have an ancestor who died in it. Keep on posting these very interesting reinactments!

Gramma Pia said...

Wow...great authentic ways. Love the log house. I lived in a large log house from 1780s for 24 years. I think you would love my cookbook, Simplefare: Kitchenlore and Recipes from the 1800's many from handwritten manuscripts plus lots of colorful images. Many Recipes from Belle Grove as I came across their handwritten cookbook with many recipes from the Hites. Email me if you are interested thanks, PRISCILLA

Historical Ken said...

Thank you both so very much for your kind comments.
Barbara, the dinner the ladies made was excellent.
And Gramma Pia, I may take you up on your offer.
Thank you again.


Ken, I really did enjoy reading your Springtime post and cannot help but wish I could join you all. I have to admit, I was actually thinking while I read, how incredibly tired you all must have been as this era was so labor intensive. Thank you for this window to the past.

Historical Ken said...

Thank you Susan.
I would love to have you take part with us!
Your comment means so much to me.
Thank you.