Housekeeping – 1790s Laundry

 

Housekeeping  – 1790s – Laundry

Another really labor intensive and, to my mind, awful job was laundry. Water was heated in one of those large heavy kettles and the wet laundry was stirred in it. Water had to be carried from the well and if no well had been dug, from the nearest spring. Clothing was scrubbed clean on a washboard.

washboard

This is an antique. I am probably the third or fourth generation to own it. This is a small washboard, probably used for lingerie. The washboards used for heavier clothing would have been much larger.

Of course the laundry detergents we use now did not exist. Usually soap was made from wood ashes and fat. The wood ashes were soaked in a barrel. Why, you may ask. Because wood ashes contain lye. Mixed with fat, lye makes a hard and very harsh soap. Getting one’s mouth washed out with soap must have been incredibly unpleasant!

On the frontier, this lye soap was also used to wash bodies. Lydia, since Rees travels regularly to cities like Salem and Philadelphia, and also because Maine was not the frontier in the 1790’s, would have access to other soaps. Castile soap was made with olive oil and was first created in Spain -thus the name. One of the first manufactured soaps for skin was Pears soap and it was made with glycerine. (Ivory, the so pure it floats soap, was not produced until the 1840s. But I digress.)

Since clotheslines had not been invented yet,  laundry was usually draped over bushes or shrubs to dry –  that must have been fun in the winter. The Shakers invented a variety of methods to dry clothing indoors. If you visit Hancock Village you can see one method with a kind of folding screen like contraption. We can also thank them for inventing clothespins – the kind whittled from one piece of wood with two prongs.

Wealthier women hired a laundress who washed the linen – and later the cotton – sheets and clothing. (For those literary people, Beatrix Potter’s Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle was a laundress as was Emmett Otter’s mother). Until calico came in vogue, (since it was cotton it could be washed) only the body linens were laundered. The silks and velvets were not. (Can I say yuck?) After a few wearings they were passed down to a favored servant. Contemporary accounts describe how these pieces of clothing, gowns mostly, were cut up and the still wearable pieces added to other dresses or made over into other clothing.

Monday was wash day, Tuesday was ironing day. (Wednesday was sewing or mending day for those interested.) Flatirons were heated by the fire and when it reached the proper temperature was used. When it cooled it was put back into the fire and another iron was taken from the hearth. The Shakers also invented a chemical to put into the clothing before ironing to reduce the wrinkling: this was many decades before it was used in the World.

When I think of how much laundry my small family generates and imagine trying to keep up with a large family I shudder. And on laundry day, cooking meals still had to be done. Any free time was spent on spinning or, if a loom was owned, on weaving. Since looms were very expensive not every household had the money to purchase one – that is why itinerant weavers like Rees had jobs. Looms of course were passed down – and that is the genesis of the word heirloom.

Many women – I read one statistic that put the number as high as 50% – could not read or write. Girls did not always go to school. They were too busy working in the home.

I think it bears repeating also that women worked usually with a heavy infant in their arms or a toddler at their heels and were probably pregnant besides.

The humble glove

 

One of the things that fascinates me is the history of small homey items. They all have a history.

Gloves, for example. They have been around for millenia. Truly. A mural from Knossos (Crete) shows two boxes. One has something on his hands that look like boxing gloves.

People wore gloves in the middle ages. The word glove is from glof.

Elizabeth I used gloves as a fashion statement, wearing gloves decorated with lace, as above, jewels and embroidery. One source claims she took them on and off to draw attention to her beautiful hands.

Unknown Lady from Elizabethan Period with Gloves - Courtesy Wikipedia ...

Queen Elizabeth 1 gloves are seen for the first time in public and on ...

During the Regency period, as women’s sleeves got shorter, gloves got longer, going to the elbow and beyond.

During the Colonial and Federalist period, gloves were a popular wedding gift.

Even now, in our contemporary period, gloves can be important. Think Michael Jackson and his glove. Or, in a more sobering example, the importance of the glove in the O.J. Simpson trial. So the humble glove has had quite a history.

The mighty horse

Livestock, i.e. cattle, sheep, pigs and horses, have almost as long a history with people as dogs. Sheep, for example, were domesticated between 8000 and 7500 BCE for their meat. They were covered with hair called kemp; their wool was a layer close to the skin and made up of short fibers. How did we get the spinnable long fibers sheep have now? Mutation? Or did the people then do a little selective breeding? We don’t know.

 

So, on the steppes, horses were –somewhat – domesticated pre-5000 BCE.

 

Horses originally roamed not only the Eurasian steppes but also the North American plains. Fossils of early and not so early horses have been found here in the USA. But the North American horses disappeared, no one is quite sure why. Climate change has been suggested as one possibility. But I digress.

 

Like sheep and cattle, horses were first used as a source of meat. Not as draft animals. And then, with the human ability to see other advantageous qualities, someone started riding. Although I can’t know for sure, I am pretty positive the first mount would be a mare. Stallions are fierce and aggressive. But gelded males and mares are more manageable, especially if they have had regular contact with people from birth. And horses, at approximately 800 pounds, are large enough to carry a rider or pull a vehicle.

 

A man on foot can control 200 sheep; on horseback 500. Leather and rope bits and cheek pieces begin showing up in grave goods. Horses begin taking on value and are only eaten at feasts (where the chief is showing off.}

 

I will add that of course, given our human propensity for war, the horse became part of the effort. Not just as a mount for a horseman but also as a team pulling war chariots. Now chariots speak to a ruling class with the necessary time and resources for the purchase of a chariot and the team of horses as well as the training necessary to use them effectively in battle. I’ve seen a few graphics of an Egyptian pharaoh driving such a vehicle with the reins looped around his hips. Since chariots were used only for war, they had their moment in history. But they didn’t come down through the millennia the way wagons did.

Horses, buggies and wagons, Part I

Think about this fact for a moment: humans have used horses and wagons for millennia. Yet, in the space of 100 years, less, actually, the use of horses had ended.
Most of us no longer have a connection to these beautiful animals or the really elegant inventions that shaped the wagons and buggies that were used for most of human civilization. True, the advances made for the creation of the humble axle did set up the use of axles in cars. How many of us think about this tool which was really the product of many years of trial and error investigation?

First came the wheel?
Not exactly. Remnants of sledges using rollers, not wheels, have been discovered n eastern Europe. There is a lot of discussion about the dating of these rollers and some estimates put it back to about 4000 B. C. (To my amazement, when I began researching wagons and horses, I discovered that Eastern Europe and the steppes were actually the home of many inventions that today we take entirely for granted. Axle is actually an evolved word (aks) from some Proto Indo-European tongue that spawned of the languages from Greek to German, Iranian to Celtic that we are familiar with today. Honey bees. Pigs. Sheep who were domesticated first for meat – they were short fibers so the wool was unspinnable. No one is sure whether it was a mutation or human intervention that created sheep with the wool we use today. )
But I digress.
Sledges had to be pulled by teams of oxen and were very heavy. Also, and this is where the axle comes in, they didn’t move smoothly. Drag is very important in the movement of objects since it pulls back. Think of trying to move something through heavy mud. Later wheeled wagons and of course our current cars don’t have drag – not from the wheels nor to this degree – because the wheels and axle and all the other pieces are constructed in such a way that the vehicle moves as though it is much lighter, without the clutch of another force holding it back. From mud to a smooth asphalt road, for example.
Are we to wheels yet?

Goodreads Giveaway

Last call for the giveaway of my second book, “Death of a Dyer

“.9781250033963

The giveaway ends Sunday night. In “Death of a Dyer”, Rees goes home to Dugard. He is trying to mend fences with David, his son. Lydia has accompanied him as well, as a housekeeper. Both have baggage from previous relationships and are hesitant to begin again.

Rees is home for only a short while when he is asked to look into the death of Nate Bowditch, Rees’s boyhood friend. A weaver like Rees, Nate has become a dyer. This is a time before the coal tar dyes. Besides indigo and cochineal, most of the dyes used in Dugard would have been natural dyes: some madder, black walnut, butternut and so on. And both indigo and cochineal were very expensive.

I had a lot of fun with this book since I got to include tons of stuff about dyeing and weaving.

Devil’s Cold Dish

I am happy and so excited to announce that I have received the cover for the new Will Rees mystery – A Devil’s Cold Dish. The graphics arts department at Minotaur is so good. In my opinion, they have scored with every single cover.

devils cold dish

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Will and Lydia Rees return to Dugard after their adventures in Salem and find themselves in new trouble. Not only is Will accused of murder but Lydia finds her own life in danger.

Coming June, 2016

Iceland

Iceland is a beautiful country. Very dramatic with steep mountains, volcanoes and then lakes and streams with waterfalls.

waterfall

 

 

 

 

Iceland is a geothermal country and is growing – slowly. Volcanoes are a big part of the landscape. We saw the volcano that erupted in 2010 (I can neither pronounce nor spell the name) and stopped air traffic over Europe. The lava formations do indeed look like trolls, which are huge in the mythology.

lava

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The scale of the image does not show how enormous this outcropping is.

Because of the this activity, all the energy is geothermal. And signs of the geothermal activity are everywhere.

geyser

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This one is at geysir – yes, folks, geyser is an Icelandic name. Another feature is the boiling water and mud that one can see everywhere

fumerole

 

 

 

 

Iceland was very green, with snow on the higher peaks. But it is too cold to grow many things so most of the produce – that is not imported – is grown in greenhouses. Here, even a degree or two can make a huge difference.

We bought more sweaters.

One interesting feature: the livestock. Almost feral horses that are thickly covered with hair. Cattle that are a very old breed (Iceland has strict laws on importing livestock since they want to keep their breeds pure). The cattle look very different from our modern cows. They are horned with long pointed horns, for one thing, and instead of a barrel shape their bodies hang from their prominent hips as though the flesh was on a coat hanger.

And there are more sheep than people: sheep everywhere.

I loved Iceland but I don’t think I could take the cold climate. And, in the north, we had almost 24 hours of day. I cannot imagine coping with 24 hours of night.

Norway 2

One of my favorite parts of this trips was seeing an Iron Age farm. Man, times were hard. The people lived in longhouses with sod roofs.

Peopel lived in the south, animals in the north, so the heat from the animals came down, Also the smells and other less nice things. I’ve read about the custom of keeping the animals in the house. Diseases that began in animals then jumped to humans.

But I digress.

I was very interested in the loom. The weaving was done top to bottom. The warp threads at the bottom were hung with weights. Weaving, which for me is a fairly quiet operation, must have been noisy.

loom weights

One of the things I found interesting was the green tape and the interpreter’s green shirt. I knew from my research for “Death of a Dyer” that there was no green dye in Europe. In Peru they used some plant but that had not been discovered in Europe. But they did have yellow, blue (indigo) and red (madder).

yarns

So, where did they get green? Here is a better shot of the green tape.

green tape

I asked the interpreter and he referred me to the Archaelogy Department. Answer: they over dyed, beginning with yellow and then blue.

For pictures of the dress and shoes I refer you to the blog by ArchaeoFox.

Witches – Salem and more

I ‘ve had a couple of questions about my most recent book, Death in Salem. Why didn’t I fully explore the witchcraft angle? Well, as I’ve said in earlier posts, Salem by 1797, was a very cosmopolitan city. It was not only the sixth largest, one of the most diverse (with the first East Indian immigrant populations in the US) but it was also the wealthiest. Salem’s witchcraft past was more an embarrassment.

IMG_2633

 

 

House of one of the judges.

 

The witchcraft spell has never completely left Salem, however. On one of our tours, the guide was the descendent of one of the accused witches. Reminders of this past abound.

IMG_2540

 

Graveyard includes memorials to those that were executed.

 

 

Although Salem became something other – a huge center of shipping and trading, however, the belief in witchcraft did not fade. In an earlier blog I wrote about trials that continued, right up to one in Russia in 1999.

And I wonder what is behind these accusations? Belief? Greed, malice, revenge? Hatred of women. With Gamer gate and all of the Internet attacks on women we certainly cannot discount that as a motive.

Christianity certainly plays a part.I think most of us are familiar with the quote from the Bible about not suffering a witch to live. During the middle ages and right up to modern times this has been used to execute any number of innocent people, primarily women.

I will blog  in the future about my research into witchcraft and goddesses – I think the two are tied. I decided, that since I did not explore witchcraft and the psychologies behind it in Death in Salem, I would do so in the next book. That book, titled The Devil”s Cold Dish, will be coming out next year. Spoiler alert: it does not take place in Salem.