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THE KITCHEN FIREPLACE
SOCIAL CUSTOMS OF THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY
| HE people of Middleboro, like all of the colonists, were taught to employ every moment of their time. Children knew the value of everything in the house; they knew how each article was made and its use. It was the natural outgrowth of their life that they should be thrifty and economical; they had come to a new country, where much, if not everything, had to be made by hand. With the wealth of primeval forest, it is not to be wondered at that many a farmer's boy worked long and hard to obtain a jack-knife, and then what marvels he could make! Daniel Webster said that these Yankee jack-knives were the direct forerunners of the cotton-gin and thousands of noble American inventions. We have spoken of the trenchers used in early times, cut out of wood; sleds also were of home manufacture, the runners made from saplings bent at the root. Most of the farm implements were of wood,1 — ploughs, shovels, yokes for the oxen,
1 "The importance of locating near a spring of never-failing water, instead of attempting to dig wells, is apparent when we consider that shovels and spades in those times were made of wood instead of iron; wooden shovels were used by the cart-wheels, scythes, and flails. The making of these occupied the spare time of the men. No wonder the people developed skill as well as sturdy, independent characters. They were their own masters,1 dependent on no one; their lives were a training for the test of independence which came in I77S
The frames of the dwelling-houses and barns of this period were of oak timber hewn with broadaxes, the sills, posts, and beams being often from nine to ten inches in diameter, fastened by tenons fitted into a mortised cavity and held in their place by oak pins. The raising of the frames of these buildings was attended by a large number of friends, whose services were required to lift the heavy timbers into their proper position. It was customary for the owner of a building to furnish an ample supply of New England rum for the refreshment of his guests.2 There are a few of these houses still standing in different parts of the town, and the massive oak frames have kept them in the same position as when first built.
third and fourth generations from John Tomson. When Ebenezer, a grandson of his, had a wooden shovel pointed or shod with iron, it was considered a very great improvement, and was borrowed by the neighbors far and near. The ancient practice of building dwelling-houses near springs and running water accounts for the very crooked roads in many localities of the old colony." Descendants of John Thomson, p. 23.
1 "It is interesting to observe how little the character of the gentleman and gentlewoman in our New England people is affected by the pursuit, for generations, of humble occupations, which in other countries are deemed degrading. Our ancestors, during nearly two centuries of poverty which followed the first settlement, turned their hands to the humblest ways of getting a livelihood, became shoemakers, or blacksmiths, or tailors, or did the hardest and most menial and rudest work of the farm, shovelled gravel or chopped wood, without any of the effect on their character which would be likely to be felt from the permanent pursuit of such an occupation in England or Germany. It was like a fishing party or a hunting party in the woods. When the necessity was over, and the man or the boy in any generation got a college education, or was called to take part in public affairs, he rose at once and easily to the demands of an exalted station." Autobiography of Seventy Years, by George F. Hoar, vol. i, p. 41.
1 At the raising of the house of Colonel John Nelson, about 1800, "A man stood on his head upon the roof-tree or ridge-pole, rum was drunk by the barrell by the best people, the better the people, the more the rum. With its painted inside walls this fine old house is still occupied by his descendants." Nelson Genealogy.
For a few years after the close of King Philip's War, dwelling-houses were sometimes covered with two-inch oak plank to render them bullet-proof against attack. The windows were small and placed high up in the wall, so that the family would not be exposed to the shots of any hostile Indian. The roofs and walls of these houses were covered with shingles, prepared by sawing logs about fourteen or sixteen inches long, which were split with a long iron knife into pieces about half an inch in thickness, and then shaved upon a bench, which every farmer had, to hold the shingles in their place. The shingles so prepared from the original growth of pine and cedar were very durable; some which were put on the old Morton house at the time it was built retained their place when it was taken down, although they were not much thicker than paper.
The kitchen was such an important part of the house that it deserves special mention. The huge fireplaces1 were often built with seats on the sides. The back bar of green wood was fixed across the chimney, several feet from the floor. On this hung the many pots and kettles needed. Later, this back bar, or "luge-pole," gave place to one more practical of iron, and a hundred years after the first settlement, cranes were in use everywhere. Over the fireplace frequently hung rows of dried apples and pumpkins. The large brick ovens were at one side of the fireplace, and had a smoke "uptake" into the chimney. The door was of iron. Once a week a great fire of dry wood, or "ovenwood," was kindled in the oven and kept burning for several hours until the bricks were thoroughly heated. The coal and ashes were then carefully swept out, the chimney
1 "In the coldest weather the heat did not come out a great way from the hearth, and the whole family gathered close about the fire to keep warm. It was regarded as a great breach of good manners to go between any person and the fire. The fireplace was the centre of the household, and was regarded as the type and symbol of the home. The boys all understood the force of the line: —
'Strike for your altars and your fires 1'
"I wonder if any of my readers nowadays would be stirred by an appeal to strike for his furnace or his air-tight stove." Autobiography of Seventy Years, by George F. Hoar, vol, i, p. 46.
draught closed, and the oven filled with brown bread, pies, etc. In earliest days, the bread was baked on leaves gathered by the children. Later, Dutch ovens were used; these were kettles on legs and with a curved cover, which were placed on the hot ashes and then covered with ashes.
By the oven hung a long-handled shovel, called a "peel" or "slice," which was used to put dough on the leaves, and, when the bread was baked, to remove it. A "peel" was always given to a bride as a good-luck present. Thanksgiving week, the oven was kept hot in preparation for the greatest day of the year. Christmas day was too closely associated with the frivolity of the Old World to be observed as it is at present.
At first pails were of wood or brass without bails; tin was not used, but utensils were made of latten-ware, a kind of brass; pots, kettles, gridirons, and skillets (made later in the blast furnaces of the town) had legs, as it was necessary to have these raised above the ashes. The first fork brought to America was in 1633 Ior Governor Winthrop. It was in a leather case with a knife and bodkin. "Probably not one of the Pilgrims ever saw a fork used at table." 1 The spoons were of pewter, and every family of importance owned a spoon mould, in which these could be made from the worn-out platters and porringers. The large platters for holding the meat and vegetables were of pewter, — very little silver was to be seen at first. Later, handsome silver was found in the houses of the wealthy. Cups without handles were used till the early part of the last century.2
1 Goodwin, Pilgrim Republic, p. 589.
2 From these old inventories we learn some of the articles in use: —
September: the 5. 1695. this is a tru inventary of the Estate of mr Samuell fuller Teacher of the church of Middlebury Lately deaseased prised by us whose names are under written
his wearin cloathing woollen and linnen 09 — 00 — 00
his books 04 — 00 — 00
to beds with bedin 07 — 00 — 00
puter with table linnen 01 —04 — 00
a still 01—00 — 00
the brase to kittells and a spise mortler 00— 14 — 00
A. iron pot and kittell and mortler 00—16 — 00
The kitchen served as dining and sitting room, usually being the only comfortable room in the house. The bedrooms
at middlebury his dwellin hous and 20 Akers of Land and A full share of his six and twenty mens purshas only twenty-five Akers and twelf Akers of Land near John haskels and a parsell of Land commly called the sixteen shillin purshas and A hous and Land plimouth
more to books and a bibell 00—15 — 00
tow pare of scalles 00 — 00 — 00
three wheells and a pare of cards 00—10 — 00
A pot and a Spoon 00 — 07 — 00
A gun 00 — 08—00
toue yar n 00 — 02—00
The widdows Bed not apprised
Josepth Vauc.han Samuell Wood
MN. Elizabeth ffuller Relict & widdow of mr Sam1 ffuller above named made oath in plimouth September 25: 1695 that ye above written is a true Inventory of y* goods chattels Rights & credits of ye sd Deceased so far as she knoweth & that if more shall come to her knowledge she will make it known
Wm. Bradford Esqr &c. Attest. Saml Sprague Register
Recorded in Plymouth County Probate Office, vol. i, p. 223.
In the inventory of " Peter Oliver, Esq. late of Middleborough who is fled to our enemies " we find, among other things, "one gold mourning ring, picktor of Charlotte, Two umbrillos, green Camblet Skirt, White firstin Skirt, 12 pr Linnen Stockens, Ironin Blanket, Two Cracket Bowls, Medison Case, Small Chease press, Puter Basons, One Shays Wheel," etc.
In another old inventory a " Brass Platter, a Brass Kettle," "for the use of my daughter," and " Brass Candle sticks, one bell-metal Skillet, two pairs of strong Iron Dogs, a Brass Mortar, a brass basting Ladle, a brass Chafing Dish, a true Looking Glass, a dozen Cane Chairs, Curtains and Vallurs for Bed, Tester and Camlet and Chintz Quilt," etc.