Thursday, May 17, 2018

A Summer Kitchen: Colonial Style

It's hot here this bright May morning; yesterday our high was 95° and steamy. Today looks to be the same. My oven grows cobwebs from May to September, no cookies are baked, no homemade bread. We grill a lot in the summer, if it can be flipped, skewered, or tossed in a grill pan, it's on the menu. Some folks around here have fancy (expensive) outdoor kitchens with built in sinks and fridges which make the process a little more pleasant, but a simple grill will suffice. 

The other day I was researching life in upstate New York at the time of the American Revolution and I came across a reference to a building called a 'summer kitchen.' I knew that these types of kitchens, removed from the main residence, existed in the south but not as far north as New York. My interest was piqued. So what was a summer kitchen and what did it look like. 
Summer Kitchen photo by Royalbroil

Summer kitchens were popular in the north from the 18th through the 19th century. They were usually a single room, 150-250 square feet, building that was distinct from the house. This not only kept the main building cooler but lessened the risk of fire. Often these summer kitchens were built of rock or brick, which had the benefit of making them less flammable. 

In the early versions of the summer kitchen, the fireplace and chimney usually took up an entire end wall and might also have a baking oven built into it. Unlike today's kitchens there was no built in furniture, everything was movable. If the owner could not afford two sets of cooking implements and all the accouterments that were needed for cooking then they needed to be transported back and forth. 

In 1795 the cast iron stove was introduced to America. Bulky in size, it took up a significant amount of space in the home. These were often put in the Summer Kitchen to free up square footage. The stoves  also gave off significant heat, another reason to relegate them to their own building during the summer months. See this link for a great photo. 


The building was used for more than just production of the days meals. In the north where, abundant summer fruits and vegetables were grown, there was a need for space to pickle, can, and dry the produce. The housewife or her servants made jams, jellies and fruit butters. Herbs could be hung from rafters to dry. The kitchen could also be used for the processing of meat, drying, salting, and smoking of hams and bacon and the production of meat products such as sausage. 



A loft  might cover a portion of the ceiling and used for storage or for sleeping quarters. With doors thrown open, the family might eat their meals at a table set up in the kitchen, if the breeze was right. In the south the separate kitchen was the domain of slaves, they lived, worked and slept in the kitchen. 

Wherever it was, the summer kitchen was the domain of women. The task of food processing fell to them. I can just picture my ancestor, swathed from head to toe in material, no fans, no A/C, nothing but a breeze to stir the air, standing before a hot fire, spoon in hand, stirring a pot of raspberry jam. I am thankful it's not me. 













Tuesday, May 8, 2018

From Asheville, North Carolina to a Resale Shop in Texas: The travels of a 1955 High School Class Ring


In a dusty box of costume jewelry sat a lovely gold class ring with a large red stone. It was in immaculate condition. Someone looked at that ring and saw a worthless object, the shop employee saw a profit, but I saw a detective story. I slipped the ring on my finger, it fit perfectly, it was a woman's ring. I knew I had to find the owner and her story.


The ring was from 1955, the school  Lee Edwards High School in Asheville, North Carolina. I've never been to Asheville, but I hear it's beautiful. Anyway, inside the ring were the owner's initials F. C. M. Thanks to classmates.com I was able to find the 1955 Yearbook for Lee Edwards High, The Hillbilly. There she was, a pretty short haired blond, with a sweet smile; Frances Martin. Frances was in the Glee Club, the Latin Club, the French Club, and other activities. 

According to records found on Ancestrydotcom Frances Calvine Martin was born on 23 December 1936 to Robert James Martin and Elizabeth Howerton Babbitt in North Carolina. 

Shortly after graduation, eighteen year old Frances Calvine Martin married twenty-one year old Clyde Gilbert Tweed, also of Asheville, NC.  Clyde would become a doctor, graduating from Duke University in North Carolina and the couple lived in Florida. The marriage did not last; they were divorced in March of 1961 in Bradford, FL. Dr. Tweed would marry twice more, serve his country in the Navy, and die after a long life in Florida in the year 2012. The couple had at least two children, both sons, Jonathan and Robert. 


On the 22nd of September in 1961, Frances Martin Tweed remarried. Her second husband was Richard Phillip Caputo in Buncombe County, NC. Less than a year later, Richard Phillip Caputo Jr. was born, 29 August 1962, in Asheville. I found nothing further on the child. I believe that Richard, her husband died in 1997 and is buried in Alexandria, Virginia, but I'm not 100% sure.


On the 26th of July 1975, thirty-eight year old Frances Martin Caputo, twice divorced, married for the third time to Frank Ambrose Finnerty Jr. in Fairfax County, VA.  He was fifty-one and also divorced. According to their marriage record, she had at least two years of college and he five plus. Frank was a physician, who taught at Georgetown University. He died in 2011 at the age of 87. But, according to his obituary, he and Frances had divorced prior to his death. They had at least one son, Richard. 

Frances died on 27 February 2012 at her home in Brevard, North Carolina. She was survived by her husband  Christopher John Nuthall. She was retired from her job in hospital administration and was according to her obituary an accomplished artist. Chris Nuthall died in March of 2017, also in Brevard, NC. 

In all my searching, and it took a lot to track this lady through her interesting life, I could find no connection to Texas. The question remains, how did her 1955 class ring end up in a resale shop thousands of miles from where she was born, lived and died?  It's a mystery to me.

addendum: I contacted a family member and left a message. Probably thinks I'm a weirdo and did not return my call. 



Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Slave Owners in the Colony/State of New York: Coming to terms with a slave owning ancestor

I am currently researching and writing a new book,  about  my ancestors who lived in the Colony/State of New York during the time of the French and Indian Wars and the American Revolution. The main character is the daughter of Scots-Irish immigrants who moved from Worcester, Mass to New Hampshire and finally to New York. They lived in for a time in Schenectady before moving to Currie's Bush, today's Princetown. This daughter, Catherine Wasson married Samuel Clyde, originally from New Hampshire. Catherine and Samuel moved to Cherry Valley in 1763 shortly after their marriage. 

General Herkimer Battle of Oriskany
By Frederick Coffay Yohn -
Painting at the public library of Utica, New York.
In 1763, Cherry Valley was the frontier, the edge of so-called civilized life. The 1768 treaty of Fort Stanwix set the border between Indian Territory and the Colony just west of Cherry Valley at the Unadilla River. The occupants of the Valley and surrounding villages lived in relative peace until the American Revolution. At the beginning of the war, battles were fought in Eastern New York, sparing the West. But, on 6 August 1777 one of the bloodiest battles of the entire war occurred at Oriskany about 50 miles northwest of Cherry Valley. Lt. Colonel Samuel Clyde survived the battled that cost so many their lives. 

The following November, when most inhabitants thought the fighting season was over for the year, war descended on the Valley. A army of Tories led by Walter Butler and Native Americans led by Joseph Brant attached the Village at about 9:00 a.m. There was a small fort in the village but most of the soldiers, including the commander Col. Alden, where housed in private homes. Alden was tomahawked and scalped as he attempted to reach the fort.  

Incident at Cherry Valley Alonzo Chapel
During the attack the enemy combatants brutally killed not only soldiers but men, women, children and infants. Women were hacked to death, some dismembered. All were scalped. The lucky ones were taken captive by the Natives. One Cherry Valley farmer, out in his field at the onslaught returned home to find his wife and three children brutally murdered. A fourth daughter was still alive. At the sound of the enemy returning, the farmer hid only to witness a Tory kill the surviving daughter and scalp her. One woman was hacked to pieces, an arm landed in a tree. 

The town minister, the respected Reverend Samuel Dunlop was spared at the last moment, but witnessed the death of his wife. His grown children were killed as were his slaves. And there it is, that ugly word 'slave.' In his will dated 1775, three years before most of the people named in it were killed, Reverend Dunlop willed his three female slaves, Silvia, Priss and Nora to his wife and children. All three slave women were killed. The Scot, Wilson, Campbell, and Ritchie families all owned slaved that were killed in the massacre. How many more Valley families owned that survived?

In multiple books and stories about that fateful day is the story of the miraculous escape of the Clyde family. Catherine and her children, at the sound of gunfire, took to the woods and hid overnight in freezing rain. The were rescued the following morning after Catherine sent a young boy to the fort to find her husband. The boy is variously describe as an apprentice or a servant in later texts. In a 1898 book, The History of Cherry Valley, 1740-1898, by John Sawyer, the boy is called a slave. 

How do you, how do I, come to grips with the idea that these men, who I so admired for their grit and determination to eek out a living on the frontier, brave patriots who fought and died for our country, and their wives who stood by them and shared their fate, were slave owners. I realize that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were wealthy southern slave-owners, but I never associated slavery with middle of the road frontiersmen in Upstate New York. It saddens me to find that a minister of God owned multiple human beings. I understand that I am seeing them through the lens of time and applying my 2018 standards to people who lived 250 years ago but still, they are somehow tarnished in my mind.

See this website for a brief overview of slavery in New York.

Also see this New York slavery index of owners.
----------------------------------

One of the books I read doing research on the Mohawk Valley was Bloody Mohawk by Richard Berleth. I found it an excellent, well written, thoroughly researched book, it has been invaluable to my own writing. I hope to publish my book, Blood in the Valley, by years end.  Read my first book, Weave a Web of Witchcraft, the story of Hugh and Mary Parsons of Springfield, Massachusetts available now at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

















Friday, April 13, 2018

Dorsey Corwin McMillen Family of Peebles, Adams, Ohio: Do you know this family?

So this is something new for me. Background, I work at a company that also runs a resale shop. The manager came across some old family photos and I thought I would try to reunite them with a family member. If you a member of this family and are interested in the photos let me know.

The first photo is of the family farmhouse of D.C. McMillen taken about 1907 in Peebles, Adams County, Ohio. Pictured in the photo are Arby, Mattie, Harlan, Dorsey, Selva and Bertha.






Here they are in the 1900 census. Dorsey is misspelled as Dosser.



I believe this is D.C. McMillen here in the 1860 census. His parents are Thomas and Sarah and in the 1900 census a Thomas and Sarah are listed just above Dorsey's family.



This is a picture of  Bertha Elizabeth McMillen Meyer and her two daughters Elizabeth Louise Meyer and Mary Jane Meyer. Bertha died at age 38, probably not to long after this was taken. Elizabeth, b. in 1912 went to college and then learned how to fly, becoming one of the first female pilots. See the link below. She ended up in Texas, living in Brownsville down on the border. This must explain how the photos ended up in Texas.



Elizabeth Louise Meyer Haywood

Elizabeth is a special kind of mother. She not only filled out her son's baby book, full of loving details, she included his genealogy chart.



James died in 2016, he lived not far from me. I guess no one wanted his pictures. If you want them, please contact me and I will send them on.




Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Questions You Always Wanted To Ask About Life In Colonial New England: Doctors, Medicine and the Treatment of Illness

As a nurse, for more years than I'd like to mention, I marvel at the state of medicine and its frequent innovations. It is a great disappointment when illness cannot be cured or injuries repaired. Many people today live with chronic illnesses that would have resulted in death in the not so distant past. And it's the very distant past that I am interested in. What was the state of medicine in Colonial America? Was it accessible, was it affordable and was it effective? Let's take a look.

Doctor Who?
In 1776 the estimated population of the American Colonies was approximately 2.5 million. It is also estimated that in the 1770s there were only about 200 doctors with actual medical degrees. You don't have to do the math to see that the doctor patient ratio was extremely high. Why the dearth of degree'd doctors? The first medical school in the colonies did not open until 1765 in Philadelphia. English trained doctors were part of the early migration to New England but their numbers dropped rapidly. There was little profit and lots of hard work and they either returned to England or died and were not replaced. 

So, who did the doctoring? Ships surgeons, barber surgeons and apothecaries were all known as Doctor. They had little formal training, some were self taught others trained on the job, apprenticeship, with more experienced 'Doctors.' There were medical treatise that could be studied if one were literate. There were also plenty of quacks and charlatans, happy to sell you a cure for what ailed you. Midwives saw to childbirth, and often provided pediatric care for young children. They held a monopoly on women's reproductive health well into the 18th century. The average housewife would often have to rely on only her skills, or her neighbors skills at healing, apply any known herbal remedy they deemed effective. 

A hair cut and dental extraction-The Barber-Surgeon
The role of the barber surgeon in health care rose in prominence in the middle ages. They even formed their own guild to oversee their members. Typically the barber surgeon could give you a trim, pull your teeth, lance a boil or do a spot of blood-letting. The last barber-surgeon in England died in 1821. A barber surgeon with his own establishment would put out a red and white striped pole. Red represented blood and white bandages. The barber surgeon would also treat traumatic injuries received in battle or by accident. 

Blood-letting
Blood-letting is one of the oldest medical treatments for illness. It is believed that the practice began in Ancient Egypt and spread to Greece and then on to the rest of Europe. Blood-letting was the treatment of choice for everything from the plague to gout, it might even be used to aid childbirth. It is possible that excessive blood-letting for a sore throat led to the death of George Washington. 

The reasoning behind blood-letting had to do with the belief in the four humors of the body. Black bile, yellow bile, phlegm and blood. If you had some sort of inflammation, like that caused by a sore throat, blood-letting would reduce it. 

Apothecaries
Like the barber surgeon, the apothecary had a sign to identify his business; the mortar and pestle. An apothecary often compounded his own medicine. He would diagnose, prescribe and treat his patients. Treatment was based on folklore, tradition or gleaned from medical books. American apothecaries were also interested in the medicines used by Native Americans. Occasionally the treatment was actual beneficial to the patient. Chalk was given for heartburn and chinchona bark was used to treat fevers. Chinchona contains the active ingredient quinine, which was used to treat malaria. The apothecary arsenal included opium for pain, salves for skin conditions, poultices to reduce inflammation, tinctures of herbs and other ingredients, emetics that caused vomiting and cathartics that induced diarrhea and willow bark which actual did reduce fevers. More often than not, the treatment was likely worse than the illness or contributed to the death of the patient. 

Midwives
Midwifery was the only recognized role for women in medicine. The first new Americans were born aboard the Mayflower, delivered by a midwife. Childbirth was a risky business no matter how many children one had, each time the mother's life was at risk. Midwives were trained by other midwives, learning on the job. Some towns hired women to work as midwives and even furnished them a house and paid them a stipend. She was a reassuring presence during a dangerous event. 

One unique role of the midwife was to press unmarried women into revealing the father of their child. It was believed that a woman in the throes of labor would not lie. Midwives might also baptize babies they deemed unlikely to survive, testified to dates of deliveries, and examine female prisoners who claimed pregnancy to avoid punishment. 

Life Expectancy
Although life was tough in New England, life expectancy rose for the early immigrants. Was it the cold weather, less crowded living conditions? The first hurdle to a long life was surviving childhood. Mortality rates were high for children. In 1800 40% of children died by their first birthday; a grim statistic if ever I've seen one. Once out of childhood men stood a good chance to live into their forties. Women faced the hurdle of surviving childbirth while men contended with farming accidents and during periods of conflict battle related injuries and deaths. Despite this, many New Englanders lived into their 70s, 80s and older. 

Common illnesses were lethal
In the days before antibiotics, many people died of infectious disease. Smallpox, measles, yellow fever, scarlet fever, influenza, pneumonia ravaged New England. Something as simple as appendicitis could take a life. Imagine having a UTI, and no antibiotics to stop it in its tracks. Diarrhea caused by any number of infectious disease was also a killer. Of course due to a shorter life expectancy and a more active lifestyle they did not have the level of chronic illness that we suffer from, but some did. 

Like other post that I have written on the everyday life of our ancestors, I thank my lucky stars that I did not live in a pre-antibiotic world. 



















Saturday, February 10, 2018

Questions You Always Wanted to Ask About Life in Colonial New England: Did they Bathe?

Mary Cassatt The Child's Bath
Ah, there is nothing better than a steaming hot shower or, more relaxing than a long soak in a tub full of hot water. We view a lack of hot water on par with a constitutional crisis, a lack of running water is unimaginable. A day or two without the ability to bathe reduces us to a stinking, nasty haired mess, unfit for public consumption. What then was life like for our ancestor who lived without running water hot or cold. How did they bathe? Did they bathe? How bad did they smell? I imagine they stunk pretty bad.  

Our ancestors faced multiple obstacles in the pursuit of bathing, if indeed they did pursue a bath. The early New England homes were only one or two rooms, full of large families and servants. The lived in a world almost devoid of privacy. Who wants to strip down in front of an audience, well back then anyway. Eventually houses expanded, but the heating did not. A New England bed chamber might be little warmer than the outside temperature in the dead of winter. Not much incentive remove any clothing, not to mention all your apparel. 

The next stumbling block is the lack of an adequate tub. Not everyone had a waterproof container large enough to accommodate a fully grown adult and if they did it was likely the washtub for doing laundry. The tub would have to be moved into the house for the bather. Then, adequate hot water would have to be heated to ensure at least a lukewarm experience. A bath required a lot of work and logistics, so how often did it happen? Did our Colonial ancestors even want to take a bath? It seems that many did not. 

The Romans, loved to bathe. They built large public baths so that everyone, rich or poor could be clean, at least once a week any way.  In the Middle Ages, bathing, as in fully immersing ones body in water, was almost unheard of. The Native Americans, first encountered by our English immigrant ancestors, bathed regularly, albeit in rivers, steams, lakes and other bodies of water. They found our ancestors a smelly bunch. Indeed, our earliest American ancestors may have gone their whole lives with a decent bath. In 1872 Mary Baker Eddy wrote a book, Science and Health, in which she said that "washing should be only to keep the body clean," and indicated that a less than daily scrubbing was all that was necessary. When bathing in tubs finally became acceptable, it was done once a week, on a Saturday. 

So what did these people do. The most common method of cleaning oneself was with a rag and a bit of water. Washing one's hands and face before eating was popular. The housewife might even have a basin of warm water ready before serving her meals. She might have a bar of soap, but it was used for laundry not for washing human skin. So the average person, when wanting to clean up a bit, gave themselves a sponge bath. 


Under clothes were laundered frequently. Made of linen they lay next to the skin. The other clothes, dresses and breeches were usually made of heavy wool, which could only be brushed but not washed. Wealthy people had several sets of clothes, but those on the poorer end of the spectrum might have only the one. They wore their clothes until they fell apart. Many a will included distribution of articles of clothing, described as my best dress, or my best suit of clothes. Because these items were never laundered, only aired out, they took probably smelled  pretty bad after a while. 


How did women keep clean while on their menstrual cycle? You were hoping I'd ask, right? Can you imagine dealing with that mess without all our current 'feminine hygiene products,' I can't.   Some historians put forward the idea that women just bleed into their clothes, but this does not ring true to me. Imagine walking around with blood running down your legs and into your shoes seems too gross to be real. I have to believe that they used something to absorb the blood. Rags seem to be the answer. Since women didn't wear 'underwear' I'm not sure how they remained in place, but I could probably make a guess. Imagine going through that every month. However, I think for most women back then, once they were married, a period was not as frequent an event as it is for today's women who can control their ability to conceive. Once a menstruating women got married she quickly found herself pregnant. After she gave birth she might nurse the baby for a year or more, her period would not resume until the baby was weaned. The next pregnancy put an end to her cycle again. Most women gave birth every two or so years, so between the pregnancies and the nursing there were very few menstrual cycles.


Of lice and men. Yes, you read it right. Lice were a bane of the colonial housewife. Just as contagious as today, those nasty, itchy creatures inhabited the heads of our ancestors. Lice combs, just as today, were used to scrape the nits from the hair. It is suggested that wigs became popular as a way to shave your head, and avoid lice, who did not live in wigs.  These pesky creatures afflicted people of all social classes, and along with fleas and bed bugs were a bane to be born. 


Go swimming! One way to get clean, sort of, was to go swimming. This was easier to do the further south you lived, but people did swim, not necessarily to get clean, but it was a by-product of the act. This was likely an activity enjoyed by men, so for a brief moment they smelled slightly better than the women folk. 

In conclusion, our ancestors made some attempt to be clean but fell well short of modern standards of hygiene. We could likely smell them coming and going with a bit of gagging when they got too close. That being said, these people lived in an intensely smelly world. Smoke from the chimney, rancid oil from lamps, farm animals and dung, privies, and chamber pots, food odors and midden heaps all contributed to the miasma of smell in which they lived. 

For a peek into the lives of our New England ancestors, read my book, Weave a Web of Witchcraft. Set in Springfield, Massachusetts in the year 1651, it follows the story of Hugh and Mary Parsons who were accused and tried as witches. More than just a story of witchcraft, the book describes daily life in Puritan Massachusetts and the struggle to survive. 









Sunday, February 4, 2018

Questions You Always Wanted to Ask About Life in Colonial New England: What did they eat?

Pottage: It's Whats for Dinner

 Did you grow up in one of those families that had 'Meatloaf Mondays','Taco Tuesdays,' and so on through the week culminating in the Sunday roast. You need what day of the week it was by what appeared on the dinner table. People of a certain age will remember homemade pizza from a box and if you were feeling really exotic you had Chinese, which came in various cans. Today we food from every nation. It is nothing to whip up a Chicken Tikka Masala or Thai noodle soup. Still, we find ourselves bored when we eat 'the same food' to often. 

Pottage! from emaze.com
Do you ever wonder what our ancestors ate, those long ago migrants to a new land? They landed on a shore teeming with waterfowl and wild turkeys. The woods were home to deer. The rivers ran with salmon and shad. The coastline abounded with clams and mussels, oysters and lobster lay just off shore.  Their were bogs full of cranberries and blueberry bushes with their sweet purple berries. Their Native American neighbors introduced them to pumpkins. A veritable smorgasbord was laid out before them. So what did they eat? Pottage. 

What is pottage you ask. Pottage was a mixture of dried grain, vegetables, herbs and if available some meat, boiled in an iron pot over the fire until it all reached the desired consistency: mush. This was eaten at all times of the day. You might have heard the child rhyme, Pease Porridge Hot, well pease porridge was a pottage made of dried peas. It could also be made with corn or oatmeal. The housewife might also add some dried salt pork or salt beef or venison. Chowder was originally a seafood pottage. When sheep became plentiful, mutton was added to the pot. 

Fresh meat was a rare treat. Most animals were slaughtered and the meat salted as a means of preservation. One exception was bacon, which was smoked to preserve it. Fruit was eaten in season or dried to eat in the cold winter months. Pickled vegetables of all sorts appeared on the Colonial table. Salat (salad) of fresh greens was also served. But most food was boiled. 

Boston Baked Beans from Chowhound
As the houses of those first settlers were enlarged and improved and brick chimneys became the norm, baking food became popular. Instead of your meal coming out of a single pot, it might be baked into a pie. Mince meat pies, unlike to ones we associate with Christmas, contained meat. Fruits of all sorts were baked into pies as was the pumpkin. Everyone's heard of Boston baked beans, haven't you? They were served with baked brown bread made from rye. The most frequent type of bread served was cornbread as wheat was difficult to grow. Wheat flour was used only to make the best bread and few people ate it on a daily basis. 

Hasty pudding was a staple. Made from cornmeal it was a polenta like dish. It could be eaten as cornmeal mush with a little molasses or milk or chilled, sliced and fried just like Italian polenta. Johnny cakes were made of corn and look just like pancakes. Hominy was dried corn, with it's hull removed, boiled until tender. It was served on it's own or in a pottage. 

Hasty Pudding, from Dit-Elle.org
The early American dairymen made cheese; a firm aged cheddar like cheese, and of course butter. So life wasn't so bad, not when there's cheese! All in all it was a very predictable, monotonous diet interspersed with fresh fruits and veggies. Children did not wake up an ask, 'mom, what's for dinner.' They already knew the answer. Pottage may have been tasty, but if you have to eat everyday, meals became less about eating for pleasure and more about eating to live. Still, it was all washed down with alcohol. 

In my novel, Weave a Web of Witchcraft, I tell the story of Hugh and Mary Parsons of Springfield, Massachusetts. The were both accused of Witchcraft and other crimes in 1651. The book details daily life in Colonial Massachusetts. The production, preparation, cooking and consuming of food took up most of their waking hours. My book can be found on amazon.com.






More burning questions about Colonial life:

Where did they sleep?

Where did they use the toilet?



Saturday, January 27, 2018

Questions You Always Wanted To Ask About Life in Colonial New England: Beds and Sleeping Arrangements

My previous blog post cover the delicate issue of early American 'restrooms.' The idea of going in a chamber pot is enough to convince me that I would not do well living in the past. Time machines are great, but only if I can come home at night for a hot shower and a flushable toilet. But what if the time machine malfunctioned and I was forced to have a pre-revolution sleep-over, what would my accommodations be like? Let's find out.

So, I just read a fantastic book called Dissenting Bodies by Martha Finch. It's a superb reference on the daily lives of our Great Migration ancestors. She delves into the nitty-gritty of daily life for these hardy people, including their bedroom furniture. Have you ever read a pre-1700 estate inventory? They are amazing documents which frequently feature all things bedding. Every sheet and pillowcase was documented and bequeathed to someone.  These wills also give details on various types of beds, although I have yet to see a Beauty Rest listed. 

The original colonist built small single room houses. A 20 x 20 square house might be home to ten people. Clearly each of these people did not have a bed to themselves. There was a lot of sharing going on. What you slept on had a lot to do with your economic status and your rank in the household. Parents typically had the best bed, servants the least comfortable. When houses began to expand into the two room hall and parlor style, the parents moved their bed and their best furniture into the parlor, everyone else slept in the hall. Babies usually slept in a cradle near it's mother. Young children often slept on a trundle bed near their parents. Older children and servants slept in the hall or in the loft built inside the house. Privacy was all but nonexistent. The parents, if they had the means, might have a bed with curtains or hangings around it, providing some degree of privacy. According to Finch, few people at the end of the 17th century slept alone. Everyone shared a bed with someone. 

Pallet/Flock bed
A pallet was probably just as awful as it sounds. A flock bed was basically a coarse linen 'bag' filled with rags and straw. This would be placed directly on the floor. Depending on it's size it might be shared by several people. 

Feather bed
This was a bed to aspire to, a linen sack filled with feathers. I'm not sure how many birds had to give up their feathers to make a bed, but I'm betting it was alot.

Bedsteads
If you were lucky, your bed was not on the floor but placed on a bedstead. Again, you got what you paid for. The bed might be little more than a wooden frame strung with rope. The finer beds had headboards and foot boards and the best beds had an upper frame from which could be hung curtains. The curtains afforded a small bit of privacy and keep out drafts. 

Settle bed
A settle bed was a bench by day, but opened into a bed at night, thus making the most of the small space. 

Trundle bed
A trundle was a small bed frame that was pushed under a larger bedstead to get it out of the way when not in use. 

Linens
Linens also were listed in the probate inventories along with the beds. Sheets were made of linen, in various degrees of quality. Like today, the colonist slept covered first with a sheet and then a blanket. A coverlet, if they had one, went on top of the blanket. The sleeper had a pillow in a pillow case. There might also be an item called a bolster on the bed. No one seems to be exactly sure what a bolster was but Finch guesses it might have meant an extra firm mattress or a some type of pillow used to give extra support to the head. 

Status symbol
It seems hard to believe, but a bed could denote your status to visitors. Guest were entertained in the parlor when the housewife showed off her most prized possessions, including her bed. Rich embroidered fabrics let everyone know that you were someone to be reckoned with. Beds and linen were so valuable that they often made up a sizable portion of a colonist's estate. 

Source:
Martha Finch, Dissenting Bodies, (New York : Columbia University Press, 2010).

More burning questions:

What did they eat?

Where did they use the toilet?







Saturday, January 20, 2018

Questions you always wanted to ask about life in Colonial New England: Where did they use 'The Bathroom'?


As a lover of history as well as genealogy, I try to imagine what the day to day life of my ancestors was like. Anyone who says they'd love to live in the past, to my mind, is crazy. Life was hard, dangerous and very smelly. I have done a lot of research on daily life in early New England for my recently published book, Weave a Web of Witchcraft, set in the 1650s. So, I thought I write some articles based on my research. 


Today I'm blogging about 'the bog'.What's a bog you ask. It's British slang for the toilet, yes you heard me right the toilet, bathroom, restroom, take your pick. Culturally we have an amazing  amount of slang words for the toilet. There's polite slang like "the ladies." There's rude slang, which I won't repeat here, but some of it's pretty funny, also names like "the John." There is also some old names like privy, jakes, loo, WC and latrine. These days when we speak about going to the toilet we are referring to indoor toilets with plumbing and running hot and cold water. But what did people, our ancestors, do before indoor amenities were developed. How and where did they go?  

These days most of us, and I'm speaking as a female here, are rather squeamish about all things having to do with elimination of bodily waste. We can't even say the words, we have to use special code numbers; number one and number two. Even then, saying number two can make most of us blush. Some of us have bladders so shy that we cannot pee in a public restroom never mind do the other thing. Recently, a new product came on the market that you spray into the toilet when you have to 'launch a rocket' and it blocks creates a barrier which locks in any accompanying odors. Speaking of smells, tooting in public has got to be one of the most humiliating things a person can do, at least for anyone over the age of 12. 

Were our ancestors as fastidious? Did our GGGGG grandmothers blush with shame if they let one loose in company. Come on you know you really want to know. So, here's what I found out about our ancestors and their bogs.

Close stool in the back and chamber pot on the floor. The
painting is called Lady at her Toilet, c. 1650.
My interest lies with the average Joe, not the hoi poloi, although I really would like to know how Marie Antoinette used the potty while wearing one of those fantastical dresses. No matter how wealthy you were in the 1600s you still did not have indoor plumbing, you just had fancier options.

Anyway, I want to focus on our ancestors who immigrated to New England and other English colonies in the years before indoor plumbing was common. These people had three choices when nature beckoned. Plein Air, the chamber pot or a privy. 

Plein Air
Ah, the great outdoors. Need to pee, find a tree, or a bush or a rock. Farmers often toiled in fields far from home. Did they hoof it all the to their house or just drop their drawers. I think you know the answer to that. There was no toilet paper yet, so you just grabbed a handful of leaves or grass, whatever was handy.

Chamber Pot
ironstsone/china chamber pot for sale on Etsy
Did you know there is a museum in Prague dedicated to toilets, who knew. They have over 2000 examples of chamber pots and other vessels, large and small. Chamber pots have been used for centuries. The were usually made of pottery or porcelain with a handle on one side. To make use of the pot, one would simple squat over it and, well you know. This was handy on those cold winter nights or days, when the thought of going outside made you shudder. Chamber pots could be slotted into a seat so that one did not have to squat down, rather you simple sat, like on today's pottys. 


So the chamber pot option doesn't sound too bad, except for one thing. The size of your house. Now the early immigrants to New England lived in very small houses. The first houses in Plymouth Plantation were small one room buildings. The family socialized, cooked, ate, worked, slept and did their 'business' all in the same room. And, these families might be a father, mother and 10-12 children and possibly a servant or two. That's a lot of poop, and a lot of people sitting around while you pooping. That tree is sounding pretty good right now. I can't imagine the lack of privacy in these people's lives. And the smell, don't get me started on that. How did they survive the stink of each other. Thank God for option three, the privy. 

The Privy
Howdy Neighbor!
The privy, better know to us as the outhouse, could be as simple as a hole in the ground with a board over it. There are websites that can give you 'off the grid'  types instructions in building and maintaining an outhouse. It begins with a deep, about six feet, hole in the ground. You need a platform with one or more openings, some walls and a roof and bam your in business and you can do your business in private. Some of our ancestors built elaborate outhouses with multiple 'seats' for bums of various sizes. Sometimes the outhouse were gender specific; one for females one for males. There are examples of privies that looked like miniature houses built of brick or with wainscoting and decorative finishes. One thing they did not have was heat!  

Vauxhall Garden 'Ladie's Room' 
A well dug privy could last a long time. Some folk put wood ashes over the 'deposits' to try to manage the smell, but lets face it, in the heat of summer, it must have been overwhelming.  Still you were on your own, unless you weren't. Let's say you were at a Church service or a party at an elegant home. The privy might be quite large and accommodate multiple patrons. There were no partitions to offer privacy. I suppose you just made the best of it and took the time to gossip or critique the sermon.  

What about toilet paper?
As I said earlier, toilet paper is a pretty modern invention. What did our ancestors do? According to the website the Plummer, vegetation was the most available option. According to them, many Americans used dried corncobs to clean themselves. This does not sound the least bit comfortable, rather like using sandpaper to my mind. Once paper, as in newspaper or books, became available it was also employed, but in early America paper was rare and I doubt it would have been wasted in that way. 

Conclusion
There are people today who excavate old privies. People tossed garbage into them, which today are valuable artifacts. Something to think about the next time you are seated in your warm bathroom. If you are looking for something to read while you complete you transaction, may I recommend my book, its a great read, but if you don't like it...you can still put it to good use.

More burning questions:
What did they eat?

Where did they sleep?


Monday, January 8, 2018

Weave a Web of Witchcraft: The story of Hugh and Mary Parsons of Springfield


When I was an Air Force nurse, I worked many a long boring night shift with nothing but a romance novel to keep me awake. I remember thinking at the time that I could write a book, a better book, than some of the cheap novels that were passed around the wards. I kicked the idea around for a while until life got too busy and the quality of my reading material improved. 


My interest in genealogy was the impetus to begin writing a blog, now I write two. Slowly the idea of writing a full length book floated through my mind until one day I decided to give it a try. My first book, Weave a Web of Witchcraft went live for sale on Amazon.com on January 8th. I have to say I am very proud of my book, God knows I spent enough time agonizing over it. 

The book is the story of Hugh and Mary Parsons, a real couple, who lived in Springfield, Massachusetts in the mid-17th century. Hugh was accused of witchcraft and deposed at length by William Pynchon before being turned over to the General Court in Boston. I tried to recreate the world in which Hugh and Mary lived, including details of daily life in those very trying times. 

If you have any interest in early American history, the Massachusetts Bay Colony, early colonial life, witches or trials, this book is for you. It is currently available only as a  Kindle edition, I am hoping to have a paperback version for sale soon. I will post when it is available. If you are interested in the book, click on the book, it will take you straight to Amazon, where you can 'look inside' and see if it is next on your reading list. 




Have a great day!