HotFreeBooks.com
Home Life in Colonial Days
by Alice Morse Earle
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Leather was perhaps the most curious material used. Pitchers, bottles, and drinking-cups were made of it. Great jugs of heavy black leather, waxed and bound, and tipped with silver, were used to hold metheglin, ale, and beer, and were a very substantial, and at times a very handsome vessel. The finest examples I have ever seen are here represented. The stitches and waxed thread at the base and on the handles can plainly be perceived. They are bound with a rich silver band, and have a silver shield bearing a date of gift to Samuel Brenton in 1778; but they are probably a century older than that date. They are the property by inheritance of Miss Rebecca Shaw, aged ninety-six years, of Wickford, Rhode Island.

The use of these great leather jacks, in a clumsier form than here shown, led to the amusing mistake of a French traveller, that the English drank their ale out of their boots. These leather jugs were commonly called black jacks, and the larger ones were bombards. Giskin was still another and rarer name.

Drinking-cups were sometimes made of horn. A handsome one has been used since colonial days on Long Island for "quince drink," a potent mixture of hot rum, sugar, and quince marmalade, or preserves. It has a base of silver, a rim of silver, and a cover of horn tipped with silver. A stirrup-cup of horn, tipped with silver, was used to "speed the parting guest." Occasionally the whole horn, in true mediaeval fashion, was used as a drinking-cup. Often they were carved with considerable skill, as the beautiful ones in the collection of Mr. A. G. Richmond, of Canajoharie, New York.

Gourds were plentiful on the farm, and gathered with care, that the hard-shelled fruit might be shaped into simple drinking-cups. In Elizabeth's time silver cups were made in the shape of these gourds. The ships that brought "lemmons and raysins of the sun" from the tropics to the colonists, also brought cocoanuts. Since the thirteenth century the shells of cocoanuts have been mounted with silver feet and "covercles" in a goblet shape, and been much sought after by Englishmen. Mounted in pewter, and sometimes in silver, or simply shaped with a wooden handle attached, the shell of the cocoanut was a favorite among the English settlers. To this day one of the cocoanut-shell cups, or dippers, is a favorite drinking-cup of many. A handsome cocoanut goblet, richly mounted in silver, is shown in the accompanying illustration. It was once the property of the Revolutionary patriot, John Hancock, and is now in the custody of the Bostonian Society, at the Old State House, in Boston, Massachusetts.

Popular drinking-mugs of the English, from which specially they drank their mead, metheglin, and ale, were the stoneware jugs which were made in Germany and England, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, in great numbers. An English writer in 1579, spoke of the English custom of drinking from "pots of earth, of sundry colors and moulds, whereof many are garnished with silver, or leastwise with pewter." Such a piece of stoneware is the oldest authenticated drinking-jug in this country, which was brought here and used by English colonists. It was the property of Governor John Winthrop, who came to Boston in 1630, and now belongs to the American Antiquarian Society, in Worcester, Massachusetts. It stands eight inches in height, is apparently of German Gresware, and is heavily mounted in silver. The lid is engraved with a quaint design of Adam and Eve and the tempting serpent in the apple-tree. It was a gift to John Winthrop's father from his sister, Lady Mildmay, in 1607, and was then, and is still now, labelled, "a stone Pot tipped and covered with a Silver Lydd." Many other Boston colonists had similar "stone juggs," "fflanders juggs," "tipt juggs." What were known as "Fulham juggs" were also much prized. The most interesting ones are the Georgius Rex jugs, those marked with a crown, the initials G. R., or a medallion head of the first of the English Georges. I know one of these jugs which has a Revolutionary bullet imbedded in its tough old side, and is not even cracked. Many of them had pewter or silver lids, which are now missing. Some have the curious hound handle which was so popular with English potters.

There was no china in common use on the table, and little owned even by persons of wealth throughout the seventeenth century, either in England or America. Delft ware was made in several factories in Holland at the time the Dutch settled in New Netherland; but even in the towns of its manufacture it was not used for table ware. The pieces were usually of large size, what were called state pieces, for cabinet and decorative purposes. The Dutch settlers, however, had "purslin cupps" and earthen dishes in considerable quantities toward the end of the century. The earthen was possibly Delft ware, and the "Purslin" India china, which by that time was largely imported to Holland. Some Portuguese and Spanish pottery was imported, but was not much desired, as it was ill fired and perishable. It was not until Revolutionary times that china was a common table furnishing; then it began to crowd out pewter. The sudden and enormous growth of East India commerce, and the vast cargoes of Chinese pottery and porcelain wares brought to American ports soon gave ample china to every housewife. In the Southern colonies beautiful isolated pieces of porcelain, such as vast punch-bowls, often were found in the homes of opulent planters; but there, as in the North, the first china for general table use was the handleless tea-cups, usually of some Canton ware, which crept with the fragrant herb into every woman's heart—both welcome Oriental waifs.

It may well be imagined that this long narrow table—with a high salt-cellar in the middle, with clumsy wooden trenchers for plates, with round pewter platters heaped high with the stew of meat and vegetables, with a great noggin or two of wood, a can of pewter, or a silver tankard to drink from, with leather jacks to hold beer or milk, with many wooden or pewter and some silver spoons, but no forks, no glass, no china, no covered dishes, no saucers—did not look much like our dinner tables to-day.

Even the seats were different; there were seldom chairs or stools for each person. A long narrow bench without a back, called a form, was placed on each side of the table. Children in many households were not allowed to sit, even on these uncomfortable forms, while eating. Many times they had to stand by the side of the table during the entire meal; in old-fashioned families that uncomfortable and ungracious custom lasted till this century. I know of children not fifty years ago standing thus at all meals at the table of one of the Judges of the Supreme Court. He had a bountiful table, was a hospitable entertainer and well-known epicure; but children sat not at his board. Each stood at his own place and had to behave with decorum and eat in entire silence. In some families children stood behind their parents and other grown persons, and food was handed back to them from the table—so we are told. This seems closely akin to throwing food to an animal, and must have been among people of very low station and social manners.

In other houses they stood at a side-table; and, trencher in hand, ran over to the great table to be helped to more food when their first supply was eaten.

The chief thought on the behavior of children at the table, which must be inferred from all the accounts we have of those times is that they were to eat in silence, as fast as possible (regardless of indigestion), and leave the table as speedily as might be. In a little book called A Pretty Little Pocket Book, printed in America about the time of the Revolution, I found a list of rules for the behavior of children at the table at that date. They were ordered never to seat themselves at the table until after the blessing had been asked, and their parents told them to be seated. They were never to ask for anything on the table; never to speak unless spoken to; always to break the bread, not to bite into a whole slice; never to take salt except with a clean knife; not to throw bones under the table. One rule read: "Hold not thy knife upright, but sloping; lay it down at right hand of the plate, with end of blade on the plate." Another, "Look not earnestly at any other person that is eating." When children had eaten all that had been given them, if they were "moderately satisfied," they were told to leave at once the table and room.

When the table-board described herein was set with snowy linen cloth and napkins, and ample fare, it had some compensations for what modern luxuries it lacked, some qualifications for inducing contentment superior even to our beautiful table-settings. There was nothing perishable in its entire furnishing: no frail and costly china or glass, whose injury and destruction by clumsy or heedless servants would make the heart of the housekeeper ache, and her anger nourish the germs of ptomaines within her. There was little of intrinsic value to watch and guard and worry about. There was little to make extra and difficult work,—no glass to wash with anxious care, no elaborate silver to clean,—only a few pieces of pewter to polish occasionally. It was all so easy and so simple when compared with the complex and varied paraphernalia and accompaniments of serving of meals to-day, that it was like Arcadian simplicity.

In Virginia the table furnishings were similar to those in New England; but there were greater contrasts in table appointments. There was more silver, and richer food; but the negro servants were so squalid, clumsy, and uncouth that the incongruity made the meals very surprising and, at times, repellent.

When dinners of some state were given in the larger towns, the table was not set or served like the formal dinner of to-day, for all the sweets, pastry, vegetables, and meats were placed on the table together, with a grand "conceit" for the ornament in the centre. At one period, when pudding was part of the dinner, it was served first. Thus an old-time saying is explained, which always seemed rather meaningless, "I came early—in pudding-time." There was considerable formality in portioning out the food, especially in carving, which was regarded as much more than a polite accomplishment, even as an art. I have seen a list of sixty or seventy different terms in carving to be applied with exactness to different fish, fowl, and meats. An old author says:—

"How all must regret to hear some Persons, even of quality say, 'pray cut up that Chicken or Hen,' or 'Halve that Plover'; not considering how indiscreetly they talk, when the proper Terms are, 'break that Goose,' 'thrust that Chicken,' 'spoil that Hen,' 'pierce that Plover.' If they are so much out in common Things, how much more would they be with Herons, Cranes, and Peacocks."

It must have required good judgment and constant watchfulness never to say "spoil that Hen," when it was a chicken; or else be thought hopelessly ill-bred.

There were few state dinners, however, served in the American colonies, even in the large cities; there were few dinners, even, of many courses; not always were there many dishes. There were still seen in many homes more primitive forms of serving and eating meals, than were indicated by the lack of individual drinking-cups, the mutual use of a trencher, or even the utilization of the table top as a plate. In some homes an abundant dish, such as a vast bowl of suppawn and milk, a pumpkin stewed whole in its shell, or a savory and mammoth hotchpot was set, often smoking hot, on the table-board; and from this well-filled receptacle each hungry soul, armed with a long-handled pewter or wooden spoon, helped himself, sometimes ladling his great spoonfuls into a trencher or bowl, for more moderate and reserved after-consumption,—just as frequently eating directly from the bountiful dish with a spoon that came and went from dish to mouth without reproach, or thought of ill-manners. The accounts of travellers in all the colonies frequently tell of such repasts; some termed it eating in the fashion of the Dutch. The reports of old settlers often recall the general dish; and some very distinguished persons joined in the circle around it, and were glad to get it. Variety was of little account, compared to quantity and quality. A cheerful hospitality and grateful hearts filled the hollow place of formality and elegance.

By the time that newspapers began to have advertisements in them—about 1750—we find many more articles for use at the table; but often the names were different from those used to-day. Our sugar bowls were called sugar boxes and sugar pots; milk pitchers were milk jugs, milk ewers, and milk pots. Vegetable dishes were called basins, pudding dishes twifflers, small cups were called sneak cups.

We have still to-day a custom much like one of olden times, when we have the crumbs removed from our tables after a course at dinner. Then a voider was passed around the table near the close of the dinner, and into it the persons at the table placed their trenchers, napkins, and the crumbs from the table. The voider was a deep wicker, wooden, or metal basket. In the Boke of Nurture, written in 1577, are these lines:—

"When meate is taken quyte awaye And Voyders in presence, Put you your trenchour in the same and all your resydence. Take you with your napkin & knyfe the croms that are fore the, In the Voyder your Napkin leave for it is a curtesye."



CHAPTER V

FOOD FROM FOREST AND SEA

Though all the early explorers and travellers came to America eager to find precious and useful metals, they did not discover wealth and prosperity underground in mines, but on the top of the earth, in the woods and fields. To the forests they turned for food, and they did not turn in vain. Deer were plentiful everywhere, and venison was offered by the Indians to the first who landed from the ships. Some families lived wholly on venison for nine months of the year. In Virginia were vast numbers of red and fallow deer, the latter like those of England, except in the smaller number of branches of the antlers. They were so devoid of fear as to remain undisturbed by the approach of men; a writer of that day says: "Hard by the Fort two hundred in one herd have been usually observed." They were destroyed ruthlessly by a system of fire-hunting, in which tracts of forests were burned over, by starting a continuous circle of fire miles around, which burnt in toward the centre of the circle; thus the deer were driven into the middle, and hundreds were killed. This miserable, wholesale slaughter was not for venison, but for the sake of the hides, which were very valuable. They were used to make the durable and suitable buckskin breeches and jackets so much worn by the settlers; and they were also exported to Europe in large numbers. A tax was placed on hides for the support of the beloved William and Mary College.

In Georgia, in 1735, the Indians sold a deer for sixpence. Deer were just as abundant in the more Northern colonies. At Albany a stag was sold readily by the Indians for a jack-knife or a few iron nails. The deer in winter came and fed from the hog-pens of Albany swine. Even in 1695, a quarter of venison could be bought in New York City for ninepence. At the first Massachusetts Thanksgiving, in 1621, the Indians brought in five deer to the colonists for their feast. That year there was also "great store of wild turkies." These beautiful birds of gold and purple bronze were at first plentiful everywhere, and were of great weight, far larger than our domestic turkeys to-day. They came in flocks of a hundred, Evelyn says of three hundred on the Chesapeake, and they weighed thirty or forty pounds each: Josselyn says he saw one weighing sixty pounds. William Penn wrote that turkeys weighing thirty pounds apiece sold in his day and colony for a shilling only. They were shy creatures and fled inland from the white man, and by 1690 were rarely shot near the coast of New England, though in Georgia, in 1733, they were plentiful enough and cheap enough to sell for fourpence apiece. Flights of pigeons darkened the sky, and broke down the limbs of trees on which they lighted. From Maine to Virginia these vast flocks were seen. Some years pigeons were so plentiful that they were sold for a penny a dozen in Boston. Pheasant, partridge, woodcock, and quail abounded, plover, snipe, and curlew were in the marsh-woods; in fact, in Virginia every bird familiar to Englishmen at home was found save peacock and domestic fowl.

Wild hare and squirrels were so many that they became pests, and so much grain was eaten by them that bounties were paid in many towns for the heads of squirrels. County treasuries were exhausted by these premiums. The Swedish traveller, Kalm, said that in Pennsylvania in one year, 1749, L8000 was paid out for heads of black and gray squirrels, at threepence a head, which would show that over six hundred thousand were killed.

From the woods came a sweet food-store, one specially grateful when sugar was so scarce and so high-priced,—wild honey, which the colonists eagerly gathered everywhere from hollow tree-trunks. Curiously enough, the traveller, Kalm, insisted that bees were not native in America, but were brought over by the English; that the Indians had no name for them and called them English flies.

Governor Berkeley of Virginia, writing in 1706, called the maple the sugar-tree; he said:—

"The Sugar-Tree yields a kind of Sap or Juice which by boiling is made into Sugar. This Juice is drawn out, by wounding the Trunk of the Tree, and placing a Receiver under the Wound. It is said that the Indians make one Pound of Sugar out of eight Pounds of the Liquor. It is bright and moist with a full large Grain, the Sweetness of it being like that of good Muscovada."

The sugar-making season was ever hailed with delight by the boys of the household in colonial days, who found in this work in the woods a wonderful outlet for the love of wild life which was strong in them. It had in truth a touch of going a-gypsying, if any work as hard as sugaring-off could have anything common with gypsy life. The maple-trees were tapped as soon as the sap began to run in the trunk and showed at the end of the twigs; this was in late winter if mild, or in the earliest spring. A notch was cut in the trunk of the tree at a convenient height from the ground, usually four or five feet, and the running sap was guided by setting in the notch a semicircular basswood spout cut and set with a special tool called a tapping-gauge. In earlier days the trees were "boxed," that is, a great gash cut across the side and scooped out and down to gather the sap. This often proved fatal to the trees, and was abandoned. A trough, usually made of a butternut log about three feet long, was dug out, Indian fashion, and placed under the end of the spout. These troughs were made deep enough to hold about ten quarts. In later years a hole was bored in the tree with an augur; and sap-buckets were used instead of troughs.

Sometimes these troughs were left in distant sugar-camps from year to year, turned bottom side up, through the summer and winter. It was more thrifty and tidy, however, to carry them home and store them. When this was done, the men and boys began work by drawing the troughs and spouts and provisions to the woods on hand-sleds. Sometimes a mighty man took in a load on his back. It is told of John Alexander of Brattleboro, Vermont, that he once went into camp upon snowshoes carrying for three miles one five-pail iron kettle, two sap-buckets, an axe and trappings, a knapsack, four days' provisions, and a gun and ammunition.

The master of ceremonies—the owner of the camp—selected the trees and drove the spouts, while the boys placed the troughs. Then the snow had to be shovelled away on a level spot about eighteen or twenty feet square, in which strong forked sticks were set twelve feet apart. Or the ground was chosen so that two small low-spreading and strong trees could be trimmed and used as forks. A heavy green stick was placed across from fork to fork, and the sugaring-off kettles, sometimes five in number, hung on it. Then dry wood had to be gathered for the fires; hard work it was to keep them constantly supplied. It was often cut a year in advance. As the sap collected in the troughs it was gathered in pails or buckets which, hung on a sap-yoke across the neck, were brought to the kettles and the sap set a-boiling down. When there was a "good run of sap," it was usually necessary to stay in the camp over night. Many times the campers stayed several nights. As the "good run" meant milder weather, a night or two was not a bitter experience; indeed, I have never heard any one speak nor seen any account of a night spent in a sugar-camp except with keen expressions of delight. If possible, the time was chosen during a term of moonlight; the snow still covered the fields and its pure shining white light could be seen through the trees.

"God makes sech nights, so white and still Fer's you can look and listen. Moonlight an' snow, on field and hill, All silence and all glisten."

The great silence, broken only by steady dropping of the sap, the crackle of blazing brush, and the occasional hooting of startled owls; the stars seen singly overhead through the openings of the trees, shining down the dark tunnel as bright as though there were no moon; above all, the clearness and sweetness of the first atmosphere of spring,—gave an exaltation of the senses and spirit which the country boy felt without understanding, and indeed without any formulated consciousness.

If the camp were near enough to any group of farmhouses to have visitors, the last afternoon and evening in camp was made a country frolic. Great sled-loads of girls came out to taste the new sugar, to drop it into the snow to candy, and to have an evening of fun.

Long ere the full riches of the forests were tested the colonists turned to another food-supply,—the treasures of the sea.

The early voyagers and colonists came to the coasts of the New World to find gold and furs. The gold was not found by them nor their children's children in the land which is now the United States, till over two centuries had passed from the time of the settlement, and the gold-mines of California were opened. The furs were at first found and profitably gathered, but the timid fur-bearing animals were soon exterminated near the settlements. There was, however, a vast wealth ready for the colonists on the coast of the New World which was greater than gold, greater than furs; a wealth ever-obtainable, ever-replenished, ever-useful, ever-salable; it was fish. The sea, the rivers, the lakes, teemed with fish. Not only was there food for the settlers, but for the whole world, and all Europe desired fish to eat. The ships of the early discoverer, Gosnold, in 1602, were "pestered with cod." Captain John Smith, the acute explorer, famous in history as befriended by Pocahontas, went to New England, in 1614, to seek for whale, and instead he fished for cod. He secured sixty thousand in one month; and he wrote to his countrymen, "Let not the meanness of the word fish distaste you, for it will afford as good gold as the mines of Guiana or Potosi, with less hazard and charge, and more certainty and facility." This promise of wealth has proved true a thousandfold. Smith wrote home to England full accounts of the fisheries, of the proper equipment of a fishing-vessel, of the methods of fishing, the profits, all in a most enticing and familiar style. He said in his Description of New England:—

"What pleasure can be more than to recreate themselves before their owne doores in their owne boates, upon the Sea, where man, woman, and childe, with a small hooke and line by angling, may take diverse sorts of excellent fish, at their pleasure? And is it not pretty sport to pull up twopence, sixpence, or twelvepence, as fast as you can hale and veare a line? If a man worke but three days in seaven hee may get more than hee can spend unless hee will be excessive.

"Young boyes and girles, salvages, or any other, be they never such idlers may turne, carry, and returne fish without shame or either great pain: hee is very idle that is past twelve years of age and cannot doe so much: and shee is very old that cannot spin a thread to catch them."

His accounts and similar ones were so much read in England that when the Puritans asked King James of England for permission to come to America, and the king asked what profit would be found by their emigration, he was at once answered, "Fishing." Whereupon he said in turn, "In truth 'tis an honest trade; 'twas the apostles' own calling." Yet in spite of their intent to fish, the first English ships came but poorly provided for fishing, and the settlers had little success at first even in getting fish for their own food. Elder Brewster of Plymouth, who had been a courtier in Queen Elizabeth's time, and had seen and eaten many rich feasts, had nothing to eat at one time but clams. Yet he could give thanks to God that he was "permitted to suck of the abundance of the seas and the treasures hid in the sand." The Indian Squanto showed the Pilgrims many practical methods of fishing, among them one of treading out eels from the brook with his feet and catching them with his hands. And every ship brought in either cod-hooks and lines, mackerel-hooks and lines, herring-nets, seines, shark-hooks, bass-nets, squid-lines, eel-pots, coils of rope and cable, "drails, barbels, pens, gaffs," or mussel-hooks.

Josselyn, in his New England's Rarities, written in 1672, enumerated over two hundred kinds of fish that were caught in New England waters.

Lobsters certainly were plentiful enough to prevent starvation. The minister Higginson, writing of lobsters at Salem, said that many of them weighed twenty-five pounds apiece, and that "the least boy in the plantation may catch and eat what he will of them." In 1623, when the ship Anne arrived from England, bringing many of the wives and children of the Pilgrims who had come in the first ships, the only feast of welcome that the poor husbands had to offer the newcomers was "a lobster or a piece of fish without bread or anything else but a cup of spring water."

Patriarchal lobsters five and six feet long were caught in New York Bay. The traveller, Van der Donck, says "those a foot long are better for serving at table." Truly a lobster six feet long would seem a little awkward to serve on a dinner table. Eddis, in his Letters from America, written in 1792, says these vast lobsters were caught in New York waters until Revolutionary days, when "since the incessant cannonading, they have entirely forsaken the coast; not one having been taken or seen since the commencement of hostilities." Beside these great shell-fish the giant lobster confined in our New York Aquarium in 1897 seems but a dwarf. In Virginia waters lobsters were caught, and vast crabs, often a foot in length and six inches broad, with a long tail and many legs. One of these crabs furnished a sufficient meal for four men.

From the gossiping pages of the Labadist missionaries who came to America in 1697 we find hints of good fare in oysters in Brooklyn.

"Then was thrown upon the fire, to be roasted, a pail full of Gowanes oysters which are the best in the country. They are fully as good as those of England, better than those we eat at Falmouth. I had to try some of them raw. They are large and full, some of them not less than a foot long. Others are young and small. In consequence of the great quantities of them everybody keeps the shells for the burning of lime. They pickle the oysters in small casks and send them to Barbados."

Van der Donck corroborates the foot-long oysters seen by the Labadist travellers. He says the "large oysters roasted or stewed make a good bite,"—a very good bite, it would seem to us.

Strachey, in his Historie of Travaile into Virginia, says he saw oysters in Virginia that were thirteen inches long. Fortunately for the starving Virginians, oyster banks rose above the surface at ebb-tide at the mouth of the Elizabeth River, and in 1609 a large number of these famished Virginia colonists found in these oyster banks a means of preservation of life.

As might be expected of any country so intersected with arms of the sea and fresh-water streams, Virginia at the time of settlement teemed with fish. The Indians killed them in the brooks by striking them with sticks, and it is said the colonists scooped them up in frying-pans. Horses ridden into the rivers stepped on the fish and killed them. In one cast of a seine the governor, Sir Thomas Dale, caught five thousand sturgeon as large as cod. Some sturgeon were twelve feet long. The works of Captain John Smith, Rolfe's Relation, and other books of early travellers, all tell of the enormous amount of fish in Virginia.

The New York rivers were also full of fish, and the bays; their plenty in New Netherland inspired the first poet of that colony to rhyming enumeration of the various kinds of fish found there; among them were sturgeon—beloved of the Indians and despised of Christians; and terrapin—not despised by any one. "Some persons," wrote the Dutch traveller, Van der Donck, in 1656, "prepare delicious dishes from the water terrapin, which is luscious food." The Middle and Southern states paid equally warm but more tardy tribute to the terrapin's reputation as luscious food.

While other fish were used everywhere for food, cod was the great staple of the fishing industry. By the year 1633 Dorchester and Marblehead had started in the fisheries for trading purposes. Sturgeon also was caught at a little later date, and bass and alewives.

Morton, in his New England Canaan, written in 1636, says, "I myself at the turning of the tyde have seen such multitudes of sea bass that it seemed to me that one might goe over their backs dri-shod."

The regulation of fish-weirs soon became an important matter in all towns where streams let alewives up from the sea. The New England ministers took a hand in promoting and encouraging the fisheries, as they did all positive social movements and commercial benefits. Rev. Hugh Peter in Salem gave the fisheries a specially good turn. Fishermen were excused from military training, and portions of the common stock of corn were assigned to them. The General Court of Massachusetts exempted "vessels and stock" from "country charges" (which were taxes) for seven years. Seashore towns assigned free lands to each boat to be used for stays and flakes for drying. As early as 1640 three hundred thousand dried codfish were sent to market from New England.

Codfish consisted of three sorts, "marchantable, middling, and refuse." The first grade was sold chiefly to Roman Catholic Europe, to supply the constant demands of the fast-days of that religion, and also those of the Church of England; the second was consumed at home or in the merchant vessels of New England; the third went to the negroes of the West Indies, and was often called Jamaica fish. The dun-fish or dumb-fish, as the word was sometimes written, were the best; so called from the dun-color. Fish was always eaten in New England for a Saturday dinner; and Mr. Palfrey, the historian, says that until this century no New England dinner on Saturday, even a formal dinner party, was complete without dun-fish being served.

Of course the first fishing-vessels had to be built and sent from England. Some carried fifty men. They arrived on the coast in early spring, and by midsummer sailed home. The crew had for wages one-third share of the fish and oil; another third paid for the men's food, the salt, nets, hooks, lines, etc.; the other third went to the ship's owners for profit.

This system was not carried out in New England. There, each fisherman worked on "his own hook"—and it was literally his own hook; for a tally was kept of the fish caught by each man, and the proceeds of the trip were divided in proportion to the number of fish each caught. When there was a big run of fish, the men never stopped to eat or sleep, but when food was held to them gnawed it off while their hands were employed with the fish-lines. With every fishing-vessel that left Gloucester and Marblehead, the chief centres of the fishing industries, went a boy of ten or twelve to learn to be a skilled fisherman. He was called a "cut-tail," for he cut a wedge-shaped bit from the tail of every fish he caught, and when the fish were sorted out the cut-tails showed the boy's share of the profit.

For centuries, fish was plentiful and cheap in New England. The traveller Bennet wrote of Boston, in 1740:—

"Fish is exceedingly cheap. They sell a fine cod, will weigh a dozen pounds or more, just taken out of the sea for about twopence sterling. They have smelts, too, which they sell as cheap as sprats in London. Salmon, too, they have in great plenty, and these they sell for about a shilling apiece which will weigh fourteen or fifteen pounds."

Two kinds of delicious fish, beloved, perhaps, above all others to-day,—salmon and shad,—seem to have been lightly regarded in colonial days. The price of salmon—less than a penny a pound—shows the low estimation in which it was held in the early years of the eighteenth century. It is told that farm-laborers in the vicinity of the Connecticut River when engaged to work stipulated that they should have salmon for dinner but once a week.

Shad were profoundly despised; it was even held to be somewhat disreputable to eat them; and the story is told of a family in Hadley, Massachusetts, who were about to dine on shad, that, hearing a knock at the door, they would not open it till the platter holding the obnoxious shad had been hidden. At first they were fed chiefly to hogs. Two shad for a penny was the ignoble price in 1733, and it was never much higher until after the Revolution. After shad and salmon acquired a better reputation as food, the falls of various rivers became great resorts for American fishermen as they had been for the Indians. Both kinds of fish were caught in scoop-nets and seines below the falls. Men came from a distance and loaded horses and carts with the fish to carry home. Every farmhouse near was filled with visitors. It was estimated that at the falls at South Hadley there were fifteen hundred horses in one day.

Salted fish was as carefully prepared and amiably regarded for home use in New England and New York as in England and Holland at the same date. The ling and herring of the old countries of Europe gave place in America to cod, shad, and mackerel. The greatest pains was taken in preparing, drying, and salting the plentiful fish. It is said that in New York towns, such as New York and Brooklyn, after shad became a popular fish, great heaps were left when purchased at each door, and that the necessary cleaning and preparation of the shad was done on the street. As all housewives purchased shad and salted and packed at about the same time, those public scavengers, the domestic hogs who roamed the town streets unchecked (and ever welcomed), must have been specially useful at shad-time.

Not in the waters, but of it, were the magnificent tribes of marine fowl that, undiminished by the feeble weapons and few numbers of the Indians, had peopled for centuries the waters of the New World. The Chesapeake and its tributaries furnished each autumn vast feeding-grounds of wild celery and other aquatic plants to millions of those creatures. The firearms of Captain John Smith and his two companions were poor things compared with the fowling-pieces of to-day, but with their three shots they killed a hundred and forty-eight ducks at one firing. The splendid wild swan wheeled and trumpeted in the clear autumn air; the wild geese flew there in their beautiful V-shaped flight; duck in all the varieties known to modern sportsmen—canvas-back, mallard, widgeon, redhead, oxeye, dottrel—rested on the Chesapeake waters in vast flocks a mile wide and seven miles long. Governor Berkeley named also brant, shell drake, teal, and blewings. The sound of their wings was said to be "like a great storm coming over the water." For centuries these ducks have been killed by the white man, and still they return each autumn to their old feeding-places.



CHAPTER VI

INDIAN CORN

A great field of tall Indian corn waving its stately and luxuriant green blades, its graceful spindles, and glossy silk under the hot August sun, should be not only a beautiful sight to every American, but a suggestive one; one to set us thinking of all that Indian corn means to us in our history. It was a native of American soil at the settlement of this country, and under full and thoroughly intelligent cultivation by the Indians, who were also native sons of the New World. Its abundance, adaptability, and nourishing qualities not only saved the colonists' lives, but altered many of their methods of living, especially their manner of cooking and their tastes in food.

One of the first things that every settler in a new land has to learn is that he must find food in that land; that he cannot trust long to any supplies of food which he has brought with him, or to any fresh supplies which he has ordered to be sent after him. He must turn at once to hunting, fishing, planting, to furnish him with food grown and found in the very place where he is.

This was quickly learned by the colonists in America, except in Virginia, where they had sad starving-times before all were convinced that corn was a better crop for settlers than silk or any of the many hoped-for productions which might be valuable in one sense but which could not be eaten. Powhatan, the father of the Indian princess Pocahontas, was one of the first to "send some of his People that they may teach the English how to sow the Grain of his Country." Captain John Smith, ever quick to learn of every one and ever practical, got two Indians, in the year 1608, to show him how to break up and plant forty acres of corn, which yielded him a good crop. A succeeding governor of Virginia, Sir Thomas Dale, equally practical, intelligent, and determined, assigned small farms to each colonist, and encouraged and enforced the growing of corn. Soon many thousand bushels were raised. There was a terrible Indian massacre in 1622, for the careless colonists, in order to be free to give their time to the raising of that new and exceedingly alluring and high-priced crop, tobacco, had given the Indians firearms to go hunting game for them; and the lesson of easy killing with powder and shot, when once learned, was turned with havoc upon the white men. The following year comparatively little corn was planted, as the luxuriant foliage made a perfect ambush for the close approach of the savages to the settlements. There was, of course, scarcity and famine as the result; and a bushel of corn-meal became worth twenty to thirty shillings, which sum had a value equal to twenty to thirty dollars to-day. The planters were each compelled by the magistrates the following year to raise an ample amount of corn to supply all the families; and to save a certain amount for seed as well. There has been no lack of corn since that time in Virginia.

The French colonists in Louisiana, perhaps because they were accustomed to more dainty food than the English, fiercely hated corn, as have the Irish in our own day. A band of French women settlers fairly raised a "petticoat rebellion" in revolt against its daily use. A despatch of the governor of Louisiana says of these rebels:—

"The men in the colony begin through habit to use corn as an article of food; but the women, who are mostly Parisians, have for this food a dogged aversion, which has not been subdued. They inveigh bitterly against His Grace, the Bishop of Quebec, who, they say, has enticed them away from home under pretext of sending them to enjoy the milk and honey of the land of promise."

This hatred of corn was shared by other races. An old writer says:—

"Peter Martyr could magnifie the Spaniards, of whom he reports they led a miserable life for three days together, with parched grain of maize onlie"—

which, when compared with the diet of New England settlers for weeks at a time, seems such a bagatelle as to be scarce worth the mention of Peter Martyr. By tradition, still commemorated at Forefathers' Dinners, the ration of Indian corn supplied to each person in the colony in time of famine was but five kernels.

The stores brought over by the Pilgrims were poor and inadequate enough; the beef and pork were tainted, the fish rotten, the butter and cheese corrupted. European wheat and seeds did not mature well. Soon, as Bradford says in his now famous Log-Book, in his picturesque and forcible English, "the grim and grizzled face of starvation stared" at them. The readiest supply to replenish the scanty larder was fish, but the English made surprisingly bungling work over fishing, and soon the most unfailing and valuable supply was the native Indian corn, or "Guinny wheat," or "Turkie wheat," as it was called by the colonists.

Famine and pestilence had left eastern Massachusetts comparatively bare of inhabitants at the time of the settlement of Plymouth; and the vacant cornfields of the dead Indian cultivators were taken and planted by the weak and emaciated Plymouth men, who never could have cleared new fields. From the teeming sea, in the April run of fish, was found the needed fertilizer. Says Governor Bradford:—

"In April of the first year they began to plant their corne, in which service Squanto stood them in great stead, showing them both ye manner how to set it, and after, how to dress and tend it."

From this planting sprang not only the most useful food, but the first and most pregnant industry of the colonists.

The first fields and crops were communal, and the result was disastrous. The third year, at the sight of the paralyzed settlement, Governor Bradford wisely decided, as did Governor Dale of Virginia, that "they should set corne every man for his owne particuler, furnishing a portion for public officers, fishermen, etc., who could not work, and in that regard trust to themselves." Thus personal energy succeeded to communal inertia; Bradford wrote that women and children cheerfully worked in the fields to raise corn which should be their very own.

A field of corn on the coast of Massachusetts or Narragansett or by the rivers of Virginia, growing long before any white man had ever been seen on these shores, was precisely like the same field planted three hundred years later by our American farmers. There was the same planting in hills, the same number of stalks in the hill, with pumpkin-vines running among the hills, and beans climbing the stalks. The hills of the Indians were a trifle nearer together than those of our own day are usually set, for the native soil was more fertile.

The Indians taught the colonists much more than the planting and raising of corn; they showed also how to grind the corn and cook it in many palatable ways. The various foods which we use to-day made from Indian corn are all cooked just as the Indians cooked them at the time of the settlement of the country; and they are still called with Indian names, such as hominy, pone, suppawn, samp, succotash.

The Indian method of preparing maize or corn was to steep or parboil it in hot water for twelve hours, then to pound the grain in a mortar or a hollowed stone in the field, till it was a coarse meal. It was then sifted in a rather closely woven basket, and the large grains which did not pass through the sieve were again pounded and sifted.

Samp was often pounded in olden times in a primitive and picturesque Indian mortar made of a hollowed block of wood or a stump of a tree, which had been cut off about three feet from the ground. The pestle was a heavy block of wood shaped like the inside of the mortar, and fitted with a handle attached to one side. This block was fastened to the top of a young and slender tree, a growing sapling, which was bent over and thus gave a sort of spring which pulled the pestle up after being pounded down on the corn. This was called a sweep and mortar mill.

They could be heard at a long distance. Two New Hampshire pioneers made clearings about a quarter of a mile apart and built houses. There was an impenetrable gully and thick woods between the cabins; and the blazed path was a long distance around, so the wives of the settlers seldom saw each other or any other woman. It was a source of great comfort and companionship to them both that they could signal to each other every day by pounding on their mortars. And they had an ingenious system of communication which one spring morning summoned one to the home of the other, where she arrived in time to be the first to welcome fine twin babies.

After these simple stump and sapling mortars were abandoned elsewhere they were used on Long Island, and it was jestingly told that sailors in a fog could always know on what shore they were, when they could hear the pounding of the samp-mortars on Long Island.

Rude hand-mills next were used, which were called quernes, or quarnes. Some are still in existence and known as samp-mills. Windmills followed, of which the Indians were much afraid, dreading "their long arms and great teeth biting the corn in pieces"; and thinking some evil spirit turned the arms. As soon as maize was plentiful, English mills for grinding meal were started in many towns. There was a windmill at Watertown, Massachusetts, in 1631. In 1633 the first water-mill, at Dorchester, was built, and in Ipswich a grist-mill was built in 1635. The mill built by Governor John Winthrop in New London is still standing.

The first windmill erected in America was one built and set up by Governor Yeardley in Virginia in 1621. By 1649 there were five water-mills, four windmills, and a great number of horse and hand mills in Virginia. Millers had one-sixth of the meal they ground for toll.

Suppawn was another favorite of the settlers, and was an Indian dish made from Indian corn; it was a thick corn-meal and milk porridge. It was soon seen on every Dutch table, for the Dutch were very fond of all foods made from all kinds of grain; and it is spoken of by all travellers in early New York, and in the Southern colonies.

Samp and samp porridge were soon abundant dishes. Samp is Indian corn pounded to a coarsely ground powder. Roger Williams wrote of it:—

"Nawsamp is a kind of meal pottage unparched. From this the English call their samp, which is the Indian corn beaten and boiled and eaten hot or cold with milk and butter, and is a diet exceedingly wholesome for English bodies."

The Swedish scientist, Professor Kalm, told that the Indians gave him "fresh maize-bread, baked in an oblong shape, mixed with dried huckleberries, which lay as close in it as raisins in a plum pudding."

Roger Williams said that sukquttahhash was "corn seethed like beans." Our word "succotash" we now apply to corn cooked with beans. Pones were the red men's appones.

The love of the Indians for "roasting ears" was quickly shared by the white man. In Virginia a series of plantings of corn were made from the first of April to the last of June, to afford a three months' succession of roasting ears.

The traveller, Strachey, writing of the Indians in 1618, said: "They lap their corn in rowles within the leaves of the come and so boyle yt for a dayntie." This method of cooking we have also retained to the present day.

It seemed to me very curious to read in Governor Winthrop's journal, written in Boston about 1630, that when corn was "parched," as he called it, it turned inside out and was "white and floury within"; and to think that then little English children were at that time learning what pop-corn was, and how it looked when it was parched, or popped.

Hasty pudding had been made in England of wheat-flour or oatmeal and milk, and the name was given to boiled puddings of corn-meal and water. It was not a very suitable name, for corn-meal should never be cooked hastily, but requires long boiling or baking. The hard Indian pudding slightly sweetened and boiled in a bag was everywhere made. It was told that many New England families had three hundred and sixty-five such puddings in a year.

The virtues of "jonny-cake" have been loudly sung in the interesting pages of Shepherd Tom. The way the corn should be carried to the mill, the manner in which it should be ground, the way in which the stones should revolve, and the kind of stones, receive minute description, as does the mixing and the baking, to the latter of which the middle board of red oak from the head of a flour-barrel is indispensable as a bakeboard, while the fire to bake with must be of walnut logs. Hasty pudding, corn dumplings, and corn-meal porridge, so eminently good that it was ever mentioned with respect in the plural, as "them porridge," all are described with the exuberant joyousness of a happy, healthful old age in remembrance of a happy, high-spirited, and healthful youth.

The harvesting of the corn afforded one of the few scenes of gayety in the lives of the colonists. A diary of one Ames, of Dedham, Massachusetts, in the year 1767, thus describes a corn-husking, and most ungallantly says naught of the red ear and attendant osculation:—

"Made a husking Entertainm't. Possibly this leafe may last a Century and fall into the hands of some inquisitive Person for whose Entertainm't I will inform him that now there is a Custom amongst us of making an Entertainm't at husking of Indian Corn whereto all the neighboring Swains are invited and after the Corn is finished they like the Hottentots give three Cheers or huzza's but cannot carry in the husks without a Rhum bottle; they feign great Exertion but do nothing till Rhum enlivens them, when all is done in a trice, then after a hearty Meal about 10 at Night they go to their pastimes."

There was one way of eating corn which was spoken of by all the early writers and travellers which we should not be very well satisfied with now, but it shows us how useful and necessary corn was at that time, and how much all depended on it. This preparation of corn was called nocake or nookick. An old writer named Wood thus defined it:—

"It is Indian corn parched in the hot ashes, the ashes being sifted from it; it is afterwards beaten to powder and put into a long leatherne bag trussed at the Indian's backe like a knapsacke, out of which they take three spoonsful a day."

It was held to be the most nourishing food known, and in the smallest and most condensed form. Both Indians and white men usually carried it in a pouch when they went on long journeys, and mixed it with snow in the winter and water in summer. Gookin says it was sweet, toothsome, and hearty. With only this nourishment the Indians could carry loads "fitter for elephants than men." Roger Williams says a spoonful of this meal and water made him many a good meal. When we read this we are not surprised that the Pilgrims could keep alive on what is said was at one time of famine their food for a day,—five kernels of corn apiece. The apostle Eliot, in his Indian Bible, always used the word nookick for the English words flour or meal.

We ought to think of the value of food in those days; and we may be sure the governor and his council thought corn of value when they took it for taxes and made it a legal currency just like gold and silver, and forbade any one to feed it to pigs. If you happen to see the price of corn during those years down to Revolutionary times, you will, perhaps, be surprised to see how much the price varied. From ten shillings a bushel in 1631, to two shillings in 1672, to twenty in 1747, to two in 1751, and one hundred shillings at the opening of the Revolution. In these prices of corn, as in the price of all other articles at this time, the difference was in the money, which had a constantly changing value, not in the article itself or its usefulness. The corn had a steady value, it always furnished just so much food; and really was a standard itself rather than measured and valued by the poor and shifting money.

There are many other interesting facts connected with the early culture of corn: of the finding hidden in caves or "caches" in the ground the Indian's corn which he had stored for seed; of the sacred "corn-dances" of the Indians; that the first patent granted in England to an American was to a Philadelphia woman for a mill to grind a kind of hominy; of the great profit to the colonists in corn-raising, for the careless and greedy Indians always ate up all their corn as soon as possible, then had to go out and trap beavers in the woods to sell the skins to the colonists for corn to keep them from starving. One colonist planted about eight bushels of seed-corn. He raised from this eight hundred and sixty-four bushels of corn, which he sold to the Indians for beaver skins which gave him a profit of L327.

Many games were played with the aid of kernels of corn: fox and geese, checkers, "hull gull, how many," and games in which the corn served as counters.

The ears of corn were often piled into the attic until the floor was a foot deep with them. I once entered an ell bedroom in a Massachusetts farmhouse where the walls, rafters, and four-post bedstead were hung solid with ears of yellow corn, which truly "made a sunshine in a shady place."

Some of the preparation of corn fell upon the boys; it was their regular work all winter in the evening firelight to shell corn from the ears by scraping them on the iron edge of the wooden shovel or on the fire-peel. My father told me that even in his childhood in the first quarter of this century many families of moderate means fastened the long-handled frying-pan across a tub and drew the corn ears across the sharp edge of the handle of the pan. I note in Peter Parley's reminiscences of his childhood a similar use of a frying-pan handle in his home. Other farmers set the edge of a knife blade in a piece of wood and scraped on the back of the blade. In some households the corn was pounded into hominy in wooden mortars. An old corn-sheller used in western Massachusetts is here shown.

When the corn was shelled, the cobs were not carelessly discarded or disregarded. They were stored often in a lean-to or loft in the kitchen ell; from thence they were brought down in skepes or boxes about a bushel at a time; and after being used by the children as playthings to build "cob-houses," were employed as light wood for the fire. They had a special use in many households for smoking hams; and their smoke was deemed to impart a specially delightful flavor to hams and bacon.

One special use of corn should be noted. By order of the government of Massachusetts Bay in 1623, it was used as ballots in public voting. At annual elections of the governors' assistants in each town, a kernel of corn was deposited to signify a favorable vote upon the nominee, while a bean signified a negative vote; "and if any free-man shall put in more than one Indian corn or bean he shall forfeit for every such offence Ten Pounds."

The choice of a national flower or plant is much talked about to-day. Aside from the beauty of maize when growing and its wonderful adaptability in every part for decoration, would not the noble and useful part played by Indian corn in our early history entitle it to be our first choice?



CHAPTER VII

MEAT AND DRINK

The food brought in ships from Europe to the colonists was naturally limited by the imperfect methods of transportation which then existed. Nothing like refrigerators were known; no tinned foods were even thought of; ways of packing were very crude and careless; so the kinds of provisions which would stand the long voyage on a slow sailing-vessel were very few. The settlers turned at once, as all settlers in a new land should, to the food-supplies found in the new home; of these the three most important ones were corn, fish, and game. I have told of their plenty, their value, and their use. There were many other bountiful and good foods, among them pumpkins or pompions, as they were at first called.

The pumpkin has sturdily kept its own place on the New England farm, varying in popularity and use, but always of value as easy of growth, easy of cooking, and easy to keep in a dried form. Yet the colonists did not welcome the pumpkin with eagerness, even in times of great want. They were justly rebuked for their indifference and dislike by Johnson in his Wonder-working Providence, who called the pumpkin "a fruit which the Lord fed his people with till corn and cattle increased"; and another pumpkin-lover referred to "the times wherein old Pompion was a saint." One colonial poet gives the golden vegetable this tribute:—

"We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon, If it were not for pumpkins we should be undone."

I am very sure were I living on dried corn and scant shell-fish, as the Pilgrims were forced to do, I should have turned with delight to "pompion-sause" as a change of diet. Stewed pumpkins and pumpkin bread were coarse ways of using the fruit for food. Pumpkin bread—made of half Indian meal—was not very pleasing in appearance. A traveller in 1704 called it an "awkward food." It is eaten in Connecticut to this day. The Indians dried pumpkins and strung them for winter use, and the colonists followed the Indian custom.

In Virginia pumpkins were equally plentiful and useful. Ralph Hamor, in his True Discourse, says they grew in such abundance that a hundred were often observed to spring from one seed. The Virginia Indians boiled beans, peas, corn, and pumpkins together, and the colonists liked the dish. In the trying times at "James-Citty," the plentiful pumpkins played a great part in providing food-supplies for the starving Virginians.

Squashes were also native vegetables. The name is Indian. To show the wonderful and varied way in which the English spelt Indian names let me tell you that Roger Williams called them askutasquashes; the Puritan minister Higginson, squantersquashes; the traveller Josselyn, squontorsquashes, and the historian Wood, isquoukersquashes.

Potatoes were known to New Englanders, but were rare and when referred to were probably sweet potatoes. It was a long time before they were much liked. A farmer at Hadley, Massachusetts, had what he thought a very large crop in 1763—it was eight bushels. It was believed by many persons that if a man ate them every day, he could not live seven years. In the spring all that were left on hand were carefully burned, for many believed that if cattle or horses ate these potatoes they would die. They were first called, when carried to England, Virginia potatoes; then they became much liked and grown in Ireland; then the Irish settlers in New Hampshire brought them back to this continent, and now they are called, very senselessly, Irish potatoes. Many persons fancied the balls were what should be eaten, and said they "did not much desire them." A fashionable way of cooking them was with butter, sugar, and grape-juice; this was mixed with dates, lemons, and mace; seasoned with cinnamon, nutmeg, and pepper; then covered with a frosting of sugar—and you had to hunt well to find the potato among all these other things.

In the Carolinas the change in English diet was effected by the sweet potato. This root was cooked in various ways: it was roasted in the ashes, boiled, made into puddings, used as a substitute for bread, made into pancakes which a foreigner said tasted as though composed of sweet almonds; and in every way it was liked and was so plentiful that even the slaves fed upon it.

Beans were abundant, and were baked by the Indians in earthen pots just as we bake them to-day. The settlers planted peas, parsnips, turnips, and carrots, which grew and thrived. Huckleberries, blackberries, strawberries, and grapes grew wild. Apple-trees were planted at once, and grew well in New England and the Middle states. Twenty years after the Roman Catholic settlement of Maryland the fruitful orchards were conspicuously flourishing.

Johnson, writing in 1634, said that all then in New England could have apple, pear, and quince tarts instead of pumpkin-pies. They made apple-slump, apple-mose, apple-crowdy, apple-tarts, mess apple-pies, and puff apple-pies. The Swedish parson, Dr. Acrelius, writing home in 1758 an account of the settlement of Delaware, said:—

"Apple-pie is used through the whole year, and when fresh apples are no longer to be had, dried ones are used. It is the evening meal of children. House-pie, in country places, is made of apples neither peeled nor freed from their cores, and its crust is not broken if a wagon wheel goes over it."

The making of a portion of the autumn's crop of apples into dried apples, apple-sauce, and apple-butter for winter was preceded in many country homes by an apple-paring. The cheerful kitchen of a farmhouse was set with an array of empty pans, tubs, and baskets; of sharp knives and heaped-up barrels of apples. A circle of laughing faces completed the scene, and the barrels of apples were quickly emptied by the many skilful hands. The apples intended for drying were strung on linen thread and hung on the kitchen and attic rafters. The following day the stout crane in the open fireplace was hung with brass kettles which were filled with the pared apples, sweet and sour in proper proportions, the sour at the bottom since they required more time to cook. If quinces could be had, they were added to give flavor, and molasses, or boiled-down pungent "apple-molasses," was added for sweetening. As there was danger that the sauce would burn over the roaring logs, many housewives placed clean straw at the bottom of the kettle to keep the apples from the fiercest heat. Days were spent in preparing the winter's stock of apple-sauce, but when done and placed in barrels in the cellar, it was always ready for use, and when slightly frozen was a keen relish. Apple-butter was made of the pared apples boiled down with cider.

Wheat did not at first ripen well, so white bread was for a time rarely eaten. Rye grew better, so bread made of "rye-an'-injun," which was half rye-meal, half corn-meal, was used instead. Bake-shops were so many in number in all the towns that it is evident that housewives in towns and villages did not make bread in every home as to-day, but bought it at the baker's.

At the time when America was settled, no European peoples drank water as we do to-day, for a constant beverage. The English drank ale, the Dutch beer, the French and Spanish light wines, for every-day use. Hence it seemed to the colonists a great trial and even a very dangerous experiment to drink water in the New World. They were forced to do it, however, in many cases; and to their surprise found that it agreed with them very well, and that their health improved. Governor Winthrop of Massachusetts, who was a most sensible and thoughtful man, soon had water used as a constant drink by all in his household.

As cows increased in number and were cared for, milk of course was added to the every-day fare. Rev. Mr. Higginson wrote in 1630 that milk cost in Salem but a penny a quart; while another minister, John Cotton, said that milk and ministers were the only things cheap in New England. At that time milk cost but a penny and a quarter a quart in old England.

Milk became a very important part of the food of families in the eighteenth century. In 1728 a discussion took place in the Boston newspapers as to the expense of keeping a family "of middling figure." These writers all named only bread and milk for breakfast and supper. Ten years later a minister, calculating the expenses of his family, set down bread and milk for both breakfast and supper. Milk and hasty pudding, milk and stewed pumpkin, milk and baked apples, milk and berries, were variations. In winter, when milk was scarce, sweetened cider diluted with water was used instead. Sometimes bread was soaked with this mixture. It is said that children were usually very fond of it.

As comparatively few New England families in the seventeenth century owned churns, I cannot think that many made butter; of course families of wealth ate it, but it was not common as to-day. In the inventories of the property of the early settlers of Maine there is but one churn named. Butter was worth from threepence to sixpence a pound. As cattle increased the duties of the dairy grew, and soon were never-ceasing and ever-tiring. The care of cream and making of butter was in the eighteenth century the duty of every good wife and dame in the country, and usually in the town.

Though the shape and ease of action of churns varied, still butter-making itself varied little from the same work to-day. Several old-time churns are shown, the revolving one being the most unusual.

Cheese was plentiful and good in all the Northern colonies. It was also an unending care from the time the milk was set over the fire to warm and then to curdle; through the breaking of the curds in the cheese-basket; through shaping into cheeses and pressing in the cheese-press, placing them on the cheese-ladders, and constantly turning and rubbing them. An old cheese-press, cheese-ladder, and cheese-basket from Deerfield Memorial Hall are shown in the illustration.

In all households, even in those of great wealth and many servants, assistance was given in all housewifery by the daughters of the household. In the South it was chiefly by superintendence and teaching through actual exposition the negro slaves; in the North it was by the careful performance of the work.

The manuscript cooking receipt-book of many an ancient dame shows the great care they took in family cooking. English methods of cooking at the time of the settlement of this country were very complicated and very laborious.

It was a day of hashes, ragouts, soups, hotch-pots, etc. There were no great joints served until the time of Charles the First. In almost every sixteenth-century receipt for cooking meat, appear some such directions as these: "Y-mynce it, smyte them on gobbets, hew them on gobbets, chop on gobbets, hew small, dyce them, skern them to dyce, kerf it to dyce, grind all to dust, smyte on peces, parcel-hem; hew small on morselyen, hack them small, cut them on culpons." Great amounts of spices were used, even perfumes; and as there was no preservation of meat by ice, perhaps the spices and perfumes were necessary.

Of course the colonists were forced to adopt simpler ways of cooking, but as towns and commerce increased there were many kitchen duties which made much tedious work. Many pickles, spiced fruits, preserves, candied fruits and flowers, and marmalades were made.

Preserving was a very different art from canning fruit to-day. There were no hermetically sealed jars, no chemical methods, no quick work about it. Vast jars were filled with preserves so rich that there was no need of keeping the air from them; they could be opened, that is, the paper cover taken off, and used as desired; there was no fear of fermentation, souring, or moulding.

The housewives pickled samphire, fennel, purple cabbage, nasturtium-buds, green walnuts, lemons, radish-pods, barberries, elder-buds, parsley, mushrooms, asparagus, and many kinds of fish and fruit. They candied fruits and nuts, made many marmalades and quiddonies, and a vast number of fruit wines and cordials. Even their cakes, pies, and puddings were most complicated, and humble households were lavish in the various kinds they manufactured and ate.

They collared and potted many kinds of fish and game, and they salted and soused. Salted meat was eaten, and very little fresh meat; for there were no means of keeping meat after it was killed. Every well-to-do family had a "powdering-tub," in which meat was "powdered," that is, salted and pickled. Many families had a smoke-house, in which beef, ham, and bacon were smoked.

Perhaps the busiest month of the year was November,—called "killing time." When the chosen day arrived, oxen, cows, and swine which had been fattened for the winter's stock were slaughtered early in the morning, that the meat might be hard and cold before being put in the pickle. Sausages, rolliches, and head-cheese were made, lard tried out, and tallow saved.

A curious and quaint domestic implement or utensil found hanging on the walls of some kitchens was what was known as a sausage-gun. One here is shown with the piston detached, and also ready for use. The sausage-meat was forced out through the nozzle into the sausage-cases. A simpler form of sausage-stuffer has also been seen, much like a tube-and-piston garden-syringe; though I must add a suspicion which has always lingered in my mind that the latter utensil was really a syringe-gun, such as once was used to disable humming-birds by squirting water upon them.

Sausage-meat was thus prepared in New York farmhouses. The meat was cut coarsely into half-inch pieces and thrown into wooden boxes about three feet long and ten inches deep. Then its first chopping was by men using spades which had been ground to a sharp edge.

There were many families that found all their supply of sweetening in maple sugar and honey; but housewives of dignity and elegance desired to have some supply of sugar, certainly to offer visitors for their dish of tea. This sugar was always loaf-sugar, and truly loaf-sugar; for it was purchased ever in great loaves or cones which averaged in weight about nine to ten pounds apiece. One cone would last thrifty folk for a year. This pure clear sugar-cone always came wrapped in a deep blue-purple paper, of such unusual and beautiful tint and so color-laden that in country homes it was carefully saved and soaked, to supply a dye for a small amount of the finest wool, which was used when spun and dyed for some specially choice purpose. The cutting of this cone of sugar into lumps of equal size and regular shape was distinctly the work of the mistress and daughters of the house. It was too exact and too dainty a piece of work to be intrusted to clumsy or wasteful servants. Various simply shaped sugar-shears or sugar-cutters were used. An ordinary form is shown in the illustration. I well recall the only family in which I ever saw this solemn function of sugar-cutting take place—it was about thirty years ago. An old Boston East India merchant, one of the last to cling to a residence in what is known now as the "Burnt District," always desired (and his desire was law) to use these loaves of sugar in his household. I don't know where he got them so long after every one else had apparently ceased buying them—he may have specially imported them; at any rate he had them, and to the end of her life it was the morning duty of his wife "to cut the sugar." I can see my old cousin still in what she termed her breakfast room, dressed very handsomely, standing before a bare mahogany table on which a maid placed the considerable array of a silver salver without legs, which was set on a folded cloth and held the sugar-loaf and the sugar-cutter; and another salver with legs that bore various bowls and one beautiful silver sugar-box which was kept filled high for her husband's toddy. It seemed an interminably tedious work to me and a senseless one, as I chafingly waited for the delightful morning drive in delightful Boston. It was in this household that I encountered the sweetest thing of my whole life; I have written elsewhere its praises in full; a barrel, a small one, to be sure, but still a whole teak-wood barrel full of long strings of glistening rock-candy. I had my fill of it at will, though it was not kept as a sweetmeat, but was a kitchen store having a special use in the manufacture of rich brandy sauces for plum puddings, and of a kind of marchepane ornamentation for desserts.

All the spices used in the household were also ground at home, in spice-mortars and spice-mills. These were of various sizes, including the pepper-mills, which were set on the table at meal-times, and the tiny ornamental graters which were carried in the pocket.

The entire food of a household was the possible production of a farm. In a paper published in the American Museum in 1787 an old farmer says:—

"At this time my farm gave me and my whole family a good living on the produce of it, and left me one year with another one hundred and fifty silver dollars, for I never spent more than ten dollars a year which was for salt, nails, and the like. Nothing to eat, drink or wear was bought, as my farm provided all."

The farm food was not varied, it is true, as to-day; for articles of luxury came by importation. The products of tropical countries, such as sugar, molasses, tea, coffee, spices, found poor substitutes in home food-products. Dried pumpkin was a poor sweetening instead of molasses; maple sugar and honey were not esteemed as was sugar; tea was ill-replaced by raspberry leaves, loosestrife, hardhack, goldenrod, dittany, blackberry leaves, yeopon, sage, and a score of other herbs; coffee was better than parched rye and chestnuts; spices could not be compensated for or remotely imitated by any substitutes.

So though there was ample quantity of food, the quality, save in the town, was not such as English housewives had been accustomed to; there were many deprivations in their kitchens which tried them sorely. The better cooks they were, the more trying were the limitations. Every woman with a love for her fellow-woman must feel a thrill of keen sympathy for the goodwife of Newport, New Hampshire, who had to make her Thanksgiving mince-pies with a filling of bear's meat and dried pumpkins, sweetened with maple sugar, and her crust of corn-meal. Her husband loyally recorded that they were the best mince-pies he ever ate.

As years passed on and great wealth came to individuals, the tables of the opulent, especially in the Middle colonies, rivalled the luxury of English and French houses of wealth. It is surprising to read in Dr. Cutler's diary that when he dined with Colonel Duer in New York in 1787, there were fifteen kinds of wine served besides cider, beer, and porter.

John Adams probably lived as well as any New Englander of similar position and means. A Sunday dinner at his house was thus described by a visitor: the first course was a pudding of Indian meal, molasses, and butter; then came a course of veal and bacon, neck of mutton, and vegetables. When the New Englander went to Philadelphia, his eyes opened wide at the luxury and extravagance of fare. He has given in his diary some accounts of the lavishness of the Philadelphia larder. Such entries as these are found:—

(Of the home of Miers Fisher, a young Quaker lawyer.) "This plain Friend, with his plain but pretty wife with her Thees and Thous, had provided us a costly entertainment; ducks, hams, chickens, beef, pig, tarts, creams, custards, jellies, fools, trifles, floating islands, beer, porter, punch, wine and a long, etc."

(At the home of Chief Justice Chew.) "About four o'clock we were called to dinner. Turtle and every other thing, flummery, jellies, sweetmeats of twenty sorts, trifles, whipped sillabubs, floating islands, fools, etc., with a dessert of fruits, raisins, almonds, pears, peaches."

"A most sinful feast again! everything which could delight the eye or allure the taste; curds and creams, jellies, sweetmeats of various sorts, twenty kinds of tarts, fools, trifles, floating islands, whipped sillabubs, etc. Parmesan cheese, punch, wine, porter, beer."

By which lists may plainly be seen that our second President had somewhat of a sweet tooth.

The Dutch were great beer-drinkers and quickly established breweries at Albany and New York. But before the century had ended New Englanders had abandoned the constant drinking of ale and beer for cider. Cider was very cheap; but a few shillings a barrel. It was supplied in large amounts to students at college, and even very little children drank it. President John Adams was an early and earnest wisher for temperance reform; but to the end of his life he drank a large tankard of hard cider every morning when he first got up. It was free in every farmhouse to all travellers and tramps.

A cider-mill was usually built on a hillside so the building could be one story high in front and two in the back. Thus carts could easily unload the apples on the upper level and take away the barrels of cider on the lower. Standing below on the lower floor you could see two upright wooden cylinders, set a little way apart, with knobs, or nuts as they were called, on one cylinder which fitted loosely into holes on the other. The cylinders worked in opposite directions and drew in and crushed the apples poured down between them. The nuts and holes frequently clogged with the pomace. Then the mill was stopped and a boy scraped out with a stick or hook the crushed apples. A horse walking in a small circle moved a lever which turned the motor wheel. It was slow work; it took three hours to grind a cart-load of apples; but the machinery was efficient and simple. The pomace fell into a large shallow vat or tank, and if it could lie in the vat overnight it was a benefit. Then the pomace was put in a press. This was simple in construction. At the bottom was a platform grooved in channels; a sheaf of clean straw was spread on the platform, and with wooden shovels the pomace was spread thick over it. Then a layer of straw was laid at right angles with the first, and more pomace, and so on till the form was about three feet high; the top board was put on as a cover; the screw turned and blocks pressed down, usually with a long wooden hand-lever, very slowly at first, then harder, until the mass was solid and every drop of juice had trickled into the channels of the platform and thence to the pan below. Within the last two or three years I have seen those cider-mills at work in the country back of old Plymouth and in Narragansett, sending afar their sourly fruity odors. And though apple orchards are running out, and few new trees are planted, and the apple crop in those districts is growing smaller and smaller, yet is the sweet cider of country cider-mills as free and plentiful a gift to any passer-by as the water from the well or the air we breathe. Perry was made from pears, as cider is from apples, and peachy from peaches. Metheglin and mead, drinks of the old Druids in England, were made from honey, yeast, and water, and were popular everywhere. In Virginia whole plantations of the honey-locust furnished locust beans for making metheglin. From persimmons, elderberries, juniper berries, pumpkins, corn-stalks, hickory nuts, sassafras bark, birch bark, and many other leaves, roots, and barks, various light drinks were made. An old song boasted:—

"Oh, we can make liquor to sweeten our lips Of pumpkins, of parsnips, of walnut-tree chips."

Many other stronger and more intoxicating liquors were made in large quantities, among them enormous amounts of rum, which was called often "kill-devil." The making of rum aided and almost supported the slave-trade in this country. The poor negroes were bought on the coast of Africa by New England sea-captains and merchants and paid for with barrels of New England rum. These slaves were then carried on slave-ships to the West Indies, and sold at a large profit to planters and slave-dealers for a cargo of molasses. This was brought to New England, distilled into rum, and sent off to Africa. Thus the circle of molasses, rum, and slaves was completed. Many slaves were also landed in New England, but there was no crop there that needed negroes to raise it. So slavery never was as common in New England as in the South, where the tropical tobacco and rice fields needed negro labor. But New England's share in promoting negro slavery in America was just as great as was Virginia's.

Besides all the rum that was sent to Africa, much was drunk by Americans at home. At weddings, funerals, christenings, at all public meetings and private feasts, New England rum was ever present. In nothing is more contrast shown between our present day and colonial times than in the habits of liquor-drinking. We cannot be grateful enough for the temperance reform, which began at the early part of this century, and was so sadly needed.

For many years the colonists had no tea, chocolate, or coffee to drink; for those were not in use in England when America was settled. In 1690 two dealers were licensed to sell tea "in publique" in Boston. Green and bohea teas were sold at the Boston apothecaries' in 1712. For many years tea was also sold like medicine in England at the apothecaries' and not at the grocers'.

Many queer mistakes were made through ignorance of its proper use. Many colonists put the tea into water, boiled it for a time, threw the liquid away, and ate the tea-leaves. In Salem they did not find the leaves very attractive, so they put butter and salt on them.

In 1670 a Boston woman was licensed to sell coffee and chocolate, and soon coffee-houses were established there. Some did not know how to cook coffee any more than tea, but boiled the whole coffee-beans in water, ate them, and drank the liquid; and naturally this was not very good either to eat or drink.

At the time of the Stamp Act, when patriotic Americans threw the tea into Boston harbor, Americans were just as great tea-drinkers as the English. Now it is not so. The English drink much more tea than we do; and the habit of coffee-drinking, first acquired in the Revolution, has descended from generation to generation, and we now drink more coffee than tea. This is one of the differences in our daily life caused by the Revolution.

Many home-grown substitutes were used in Revolutionary times for tea: ribwort was a favorite one; strawberry and currant leaves, sage, thorough-wort, and "Liberty Tea," made from the four-leaved loosestrife. "Hyperion tea" was raspberry leaves, and was said by good patriots to be "very delicate and most excellent."



CHAPTER VIII

FLAX CULTURE AND SPINNING

In recounting the various influences which assisted the Americans to success in the War for Independence, such as the courage and integrity of the American generals, the generosity of the American people, the skill of Americans in marksmanship, their powers of endurance, their acclimatization, their confidence and faith, etc., we must never forget to add their independence in their own homes of any outside help to give them every necessity of life. No farmer or his wife need fear any king when on every home farm was found food, drink, medicine, fuel, lighting, clothing, shelter. Home-made was an adjective that might be applied to nearly every article in the house. Such would not be the case under similar stress to-day. In the matter of clothing alone we could not now be independent. Few farmers raise flax to make linen; few women can spin either wool or flax, or weave cloth; many cannot knit. In early days every farmer and his sons raised wool and flax; his wife and daughters spun them into thread and yarn, knit these into stockings and mittens, or wove them into linen and cloth, and then made them into clothing. Even in large cities nearly all women spun yarn and thread, all could knit, and many had hand-looms to weave cloth at home. These home occupations in the production of clothing have been very happily termed the "homespun industries."

Nearly every one has seen one of the pretty foot-wheels for spinning flax thread for linen, which may yet be found in the attics of many of our farmhouses, as well as in some of our parlors, where, with a bunch of flax wound around and tied to the spindle, they have within a few years been placed as a relic of the olden times.

If one of these flax-wheels could speak to-day, it would sing a tale of the patient industry, of the tiring work of our grandmothers, even when they were little children, which ought never to be forgotten.

As soon as the colonists had cleared their farms from stones and stumps, they planted a field, or "patch" of flax, and usually one of hemp. The seed was sown broadcast like grass-seed in May. Flax is a graceful plant with pretty drooping blue flowers; hemp has but a sad-colored blossom.

Thomas Tusser says in his Book of Housewifery:—

"Good flax and good hemp to have of her own, In May a good huswife will see it be sown. And afterwards trim it to serve in a need; The fimble to spin, the card for her seed."

When the flax plants were three or four inches high, they were weeded by young women or children who had to work barefoot, as the stalks were very tender. If the land had a growth of thistles, the weeders could wear three or four pairs of woollen stockings. The children had to step facing the wind, so if any plants were trodden down the wind would help to blow them back into place. When the flax was ripe, in the last of June or in July, it was pulled up by the roots and laid out carefully to dry for a day or two, and turned several times in the sun; this work was called pulling and spreading, and was usually done by men and boys. It then was "rippled." A coarse wooden or heavy iron wire comb with great teeth, named a ripple-comb, was fastened on a plank; the stalks of flax were drawn through it with a quick stroke to break off the seed-bolles or "bobs," which fell on a sheet spread to catch them; these were saved for seed for the next crop, or for sale.

Rippling was done in the field. The stalks were then tied in bundles called beats or bates and stacked. They were tied only at the seed end, and the base of the stalks was spread out forming a tent-shaped stack, called a stook. When dry, the stalks were watered to rot the leaves and softer fibres. Hemp was watered without rippling. This was done preferably in running water, as the rotting flax poisoned fish. Stakes were set in the water in the form of a square, called a steep-pool, and the bates of flax or hemp were piled in solidly, each alternate layer at right angles with the one beneath it. A cover of boards and heavy stones was piled on top. In four or five days the bates were taken up and the rotted leaves removed. A slower process was termed dew-retting; an old author calls it "a vile and naughty way," but it was the way chiefly employed in America.

When the flax was cleaned, it was once more dried and tied in bundles. Then came work for strong men, to break it on the ponderous flax-brake, to separate the fibres and get out from the centre the hard woody "hexe" or "bun." Hemp was also broken.

A flax-brake is an implement which is almost impossible to describe. It was a heavy log of wood about five feet long, either large enough so the flat top was about three feet from the ground, or set on heavy logs to bring it to that height. A portion of the top was cut down leaving a block at each end, and several long slats were set in lengthwise and held firm at each end with edges up, by being set into the end blocks. Then a similar set of slats, put in a heavy frame, was made with the slats set far enough apart to go into the spaces of the lower slats. The flax was laid on the lower slats, the frame and upper slats placed on it, and then pounded down with a heavy wooden mallet weighing many pounds. Sometimes the upper frame of slats, or knives as they were called, were hinged to the big under log at one end, and heavily weighted at the other, and thus the blow was given by the fall of the weight, not by the force of the farmer's muscle. The tenacity of the flax can be seen when it would stand this violent beating; and the cruel blow can be imagined, which the farmer's fingers sometimes got when he carelessly thrust his hand with the flax too far under the descending jaw—a shark's maw was equally gentle.

Flax was usually broken twice, once with an "open-tooth brake," once with a "close or strait brake," that is, one where the long, sharp-edge strips of wood were set closely together. Then it was scutched or swingled with a swingling block and knife, to take out any small particles of bark that might adhere. A man could swingle forty pounds of flax a day, but it was hard work. All this had to be done in clear sunny weather when the flax was as dry as tinder.

The clean fibres were then made into bundles called strikes. The strikes were swingled again, and from the refuse called swingle-tree hurds, coarse bagging could be spun and woven. After being thoroughly cleaned the rolls or strikes were sometimes beetled, that is, pounded in a wooden trough with a great pestle-shaped beetle over and over again until soft.

Then came the hackling or hetcheling, and the fineness of the flax depended upon the number of hacklings, the fineness of the various hackles or hetchels or combs, and the dexterity of the operator. In the hands of a poor hackler the best of flax would be converted into tow. The flax was slightly wetted, taken hold of at one end of the bunch, and drawn through the hackle-teeth towards the hetcheller, and thus fibres were pulled and laid into continuous threads, while the short fibres were combed out. It was dusty, dirty work. The threefold process had to be all done at once; the fibres had to be divided to their fine filaments, the long threads laid in untangled line, and the tow separated and removed. After the first hackle, called a ruffler, six other finer hackles were often used. It was one of the surprises of flax preparation to see how little good fibre would be left after all this hackling, even from a large mass of raw material, but it was equally surprising to see how much linen thread could be made from this small amount of fine flax. The fibres were sorted according to fineness; this was called spreading and drawing. So then after over twenty dexterous manipulations the flax was ready for the wheel, for spinning,—the most dexterous process of all,—and was wrapped round the spindle.

Seated at the small flax-wheel, the spinner placed her foot on the treadle, and spun the fibre into a long, even thread. Hung on the wheel was a small bone, wood, or earthenware cup, or a gourd-shell, filled with water, in which the spinner moistened her fingers as she held the twisting flax, which by the movement of the wheel was wound on bobbins. When all were filled, the thread was wound off in knots and skeins on a reel. A machine called a clock-reel counted the exact number of strands in a knot, usually forty, and ticked when the requisite number had been wound. Then the spinner would stop and tie the knot. A quaint old ballad has the refrain:—

"And he kissed Mistress Polly when the clock-reel ticked."

That is, the lover seized the rare and propitious moments of Mistress Polly's comparative leisure to kiss her.

Usually the knots or lays were of forty threads, and twenty lays made a skein or slipping. The number varied, however, with locality. To spin two skeins of linen thread was a good day's work; for it a spinner was paid eight cents a day and "her keep."

These skeins of thread had to be bleached. They were laid in warm water for four days, the water being frequently changed, and the skeins constantly wrung out. Then they were washed in the brook till the water came from them clear and pure. Then they were "bucked," that is, bleached with ashes and hot water, in a bucking-tub, over and over again, then laid in clear water for a week, and afterwards came a grand seething, rinsing, beating, washing, drying, and winding on bobbins for the loom. Sometimes the bleaching was done with slaked lime or with buttermilk.

These were not the only bleaching operations the flax went through; others will be detailed in the chapter on hand-weaving.

One lucrative product of flax should be mentioned—flaxseed. Flax was pulled for spinning when the base of the stalk began to turn yellow, which was usually the first of July. An old saying was, "June brings the flax." For seed it stood till it was all yellow. The flaxseed was used for making oil. Usually the upper chambers of country stores were filled a foot deep with flaxseed in the autumn, waiting for good sleighing to convey the seed to town.

In New Hampshire in early days, a wheelwright was not a man who made wagon-wheels (as such he would have had scant occupation), but one who made spinning-wheels. Often he carried them around the country on horseback selling them, thus adding another to the many interesting itineracies of colonial days. Spinning-wheels would seem clumsy for horse-carriage, but they were not set up, and several could be compactly carried when taken apart; far more ticklish articles went on pack-horses,—large barrels, glazed window-sashes, etc. Nor would it seem very difficult for a man to carry spinning-wheels on horseback, when frequently a woman would jump on horseback in the early morning, and with a baby on one arm and a flax-wheel tied behind, would ride several miles to a neighbor's to spend the day spinning in cheerful companionship. A century ago one of these wheelwrights sold a fine spinning-wheel for a dollar, a clock-reel for two dollars, and a wool-wheel for two dollars.

Few persons are now living who have ever seen carried on in a country home in America any of these old-time processes which have been recounted. As an old antiquary wrote:—

"Few have ever seen a woman hatchel flax or card tow, or heard the buzzing of the foot-wheel, or seen bunches of flaxen yarn hanging in the kitchen, or linen cloth whitening on the grass. The flax-dresser with the shives, fibres, and dirt of flax covering his garments, and his face begrimed with flax-dirt has disappeared; the noise of his brake and swingling knife has ended, and the boys no longer make bonfires of his swingling tow. The sound of the spinning-wheel, the song of the spinster, and the snapping of the clock-reel all have ceased; the warping bars and quill wheel are gone, and the thwack of the loom is heard only in the factory. The spinning woman of King Lemuel cannot be found."

Frequent references are made to flax in the Bible, notably in the Book of Proverbs; and the methods of growing and preparing flax by the ancient Egyptians were precisely the same as those of the American colonist a hundred years ago, of the Finn, Lapp, Norwegian, and Belgian flax-growers to-day. This ancient skill was not confined to flax-working. Rosselini, the eminent hierologist, says that every modern craftsman may see on Egyptian monuments four thousand years old, representations of the process of his craft just as it is carried on to-day. The paintings in the Grotto of El Kab, shown in Hamilton's AEgyptica, show the pulling, stocking, tying, and rippling of flax going on just as it is done in Egypt now. The four-tooth ripple of the Egyptian is improved upon, but it is the same implement. Pliny gives an account of the mode of preparing flax: plucking it up by the roots, tying it in bundles, drying, watering, beating, and hackling it, or, as he says, "combing it with iron hooks." Until the Christian era linen was almost the only kind of clothing used in Egypt, and the teeming banks of the Nile furnished flax in abundance. The quality of the linen can be seen in the bands preserved on mummies. It was not, however, spun on a wheel, but on a hand-distaff, called sometimes a rock, on which the women in India still spin the very fine thread which is employed in making India muslins. The distaff was used in our colonies; it was ordered that children and others tending sheep or cattle in the fields should also "be set to some other employment withal, such as spinning upon the rock, knitting, weaving tape, etc." I heard recently a distinguished historian refer in a lecture to this colonial statute, and he spoke of the children sitting upon a rock while knitting or spinning, etc., evidently knowing naught of the proper signification of the word.

The homespun industries have ever been held to have a beneficent and peace-bringing influence on women. Wordsworth voiced this sentiment when he wrote his series of sonnets beginning:—

"Grief! thou hast lost an ever-ready friend Now that the cottage spinning-wheel is mute."

Chaucer more cynically says, through the Wife of Bath:—

"Deceite, weepynge, spynnynge God hath give To wymmen kyndely that they may live."

Spinning doubtless was an ever-ready refuge in the monotonous life of the early colonist. She soon had plenty of material to work with. Everywhere, even in the earliest days, the culture of flax was encouraged. By 1640 the Court of Massachusetts passed two orders directing the growth of flax, ascertaining what colonists were skilful in breaking, spinning, weaving, ordering that boys and girls be taught to spin, and offering a bounty for linen grown, spun, and woven in the colony. Connecticut passed similar measures. Soon spinning-classes were formed, and every family ordered to spin so many pounds of flax a year, or to pay a fine. The industry received a fresh impulse through the immigration of about one hundred Irish families from Londonderry. They settled in New Hampshire on the Merrimac about 1719, and spun and wove with far more skill than prevailed among those English settlers who had already become Americans. They established a manufactory according to Irish methods, and attempts at a similar establishment were made in Boston.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse