Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on July 13, 1975 · Page 66
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Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 66

Charleston, West Virginia
Issue Date:
Sunday, July 13, 1975
Page 66
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Page 66 article text (OCR)

Colonial Days 200 years ago, life was hard and dangerous. It looked romantic later. By Kristin Golf Of the Associated Press The members of the Benias Brendel family huddled around a roughhewn wooden table and ate a dinner of venison and flour dumplings from a common dish. At the end of a winter 200 years ago, when stored supplies of food were running low, a poor colonial farm family like the Brendels depended mainly on wild game for food. If hunting was poor, the family meals were meager. The Brendels relied on the kitchen fireplace for cooking and to heat their three-room wood cabin. The room next to the kitchen was called "the great room." By day it was used for spinning and other chores. By .night the parents and their youngest child slept there, drawing what warmth they could from the, back wall of the kitchen fireplace ; Upstairs, in an unheated and unfinished loft, the other children slept bundled three and four in a bed. With them were the winter's food supply. Cloth sacks of dried beans and peas, salted and smoked meats, cornmeal and flour, were tied and hung from the rafters to keep them from rats and mice. The Brendels were a poor German farm family that lived in Landis Valley, Pennsylvania, at the start of the American Revolution. Their life was like that of 90 per cent of the 2.5 million people in the 13 Colonies in the'1770's. Like farmers throughout the colonies, they grew their own food, kept livestock, hunted, grew flax and raised sheep for their clothes, plucked geese feathers to stuff their mattresses, and chopped wood endlessly to feed their fireplace day and night. For most families, the tasks of keeping fed, clothed and warm left little time for other concerns. But for a few, colonial life was not nearly so bleak. Not three days' ride by horseback from the Brendels' farming settlement, John and Ruth Potts took their main, midday dinner in a formal dining room. Their table was of imported mahogany, crafted by a Philadelphia" cabinetmaker, r .Their floors were covered'' with 6fieritaMrugs. They ate from hand-painted China dishes and drank, perhaps, from pewter mugs. Even at the end of a winter in the mid-1700's, the Potts, who owned several lucrative iron-making furnaces, could afford to eat well. An average dinner might include pork, chicken, and mutton; soup or stew; custard; bread or corn cakes; perhaps dried fruit and nuts; and imported wine or ale. The younger of the Potts' 13 children ate in a children's dining room, waited on by servants, and kept apart from their parents until their table manners were perfect- .ed. ' There were 14 rooms in the Georgian-style mansion in the years prior to the Revolutionary War. Most of the rooms had fireplaces. For those few with money, there were fine spices, silk cloth, China dishes and other luxuries imported from the Orient, Europe and England in the years prior to the Revolutionary War. Craftsmen in the colonies were producing still other goods. For example, an iron fireplace, one of the early designs by Benjamin Franklin, was gaining popularity in some wealthy circles. Its iron walls, set-within a stone hearth, were better able to absorb and spread the warmth of a fire. Another, if less a widespread contraption, utilized a small dog, trained to run in a revolving cylinder, to turn a spit for cooking roasts over the open hearth. Spinning occupied enormous amounts of time in colonial life. In almost every family .the children played an important part in the work. Although the death rate for both infants and their mothers was extremely High, it was not uncommon for a family to have more than a dozen children. Abigail Foote, an educated young girl of Colchester, Conn., apparently of the middle-class, jotted down her day's work in a diary written in 1775. "Fix'd gown for Prude,--Mend Mother's Riding-hood,--Spun short thread,--Fix'd two gowns for Welsh's girls,-Carded tow,-Spun linen,--Wbtif''oh «y Hatchel'd flax with Hannah, we did 51 Ibs. apiece,--Pleated and ironed,--Read a Sermon of pod- ridge's,--Spooled a piece,--Milked the cows,--Spun linen, did 50 knots,--Made a Broom of Guinea wheat straw,--Spun thread to whiten,--Set a Red dye,--Had two Scholars from Mrs. Taylor's,--I carded two pounds of whole wool- Spun harness twine,--Scored the pewter." A poorer family might not have any pewter to scour but it would have all the other chores to do. The most urgent task of any day was preparing meals. If the menu was large enough, the preparation of dinner, usually eaten in the early afternoon, might begin even before breakfast. (^eesebaske^jjVV^iSfltfh simple task as washing cooking pots was backbreaking .work. Many of the larger iron kettles weighed more than 30 pounds empty and might have to be carried to a stream to be washed. History does not record- how many women were burned because flames and sparks set fire to their long petticoats. But certainly this was a constant danger of cooking · over an open hearth.. Fortunately, their homespun wools and linens caught fire less easily than do many synthetics today. Spinning occupied enormous amounts of time. To spin enough thread for a single wool petticoat, or skirt, one person had to work constantly from breakfast, until bedtime for four days. But that was only part of the process of making clothes, bedding and other necessities. Families commonly grew flax for linen and raised sheep for wool. The flax had to be soaked, broken, and beaten with a knife to separate the useful inner fibers from the plant before spinning could begin. Wool, too, had to be cleaned and carded to prepare its fibers. Once the fibers were spun into thread, the material still had to be woven into cloth. Beyond that, the cloth was dyed, cut and sewn into the finished article. In many families, each step was done at home. There were other chores more seasonal in nature. The fall was the busiest time of year because of the harvest and because food had to be dried and preserved for the winter, and animals had to be butchered. One chore that wasn't as common then as today was washing. Particularly in poorer families, where each member had only one set of clothes, it might be a month or more before a laundry was done.

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