Monday, February 25, 2013

Old-Timey Jobs

Do you know what a thude-weald was? In the 1700s, a thude-weald was a person who looked after the woods ~ in other words an occupation similar to a game warden today.

And how about the neck-stamper? In the early 1800s, the neck-stamper was (usually) a young boy who collects pots and other containers belonging to an alehouse, which had been used to send beer to private houses.

I'm sure you know what an ostler did. He was basically a stableman who took care of the horse(s) for someone staying at an inn. But, although you probably already knew what an ostler was, do you know what a daisy-kicker did? This was a trick question; the name daisy-licker was just another name for an ostler.

pellipar was a very necessary occupation at a time when animal skins were utilized in clothing, because he was a dresser or skinner of those animal hides.

And finally, one of the most popular occupations  back then was that of the xylopola ~ which, no doubt, everyone knows was a woodmonger ~ and, I'm sure, everyone knows one who sold wood to others.

There's a rather extensive list of Occupations, Professions & Offices Of Our Colonial Ancestors on the Mother Bedford website at:

Friday, February 22, 2013

George Washington's Birthday

I just wanted to remind my American visitors that today was George Washington's birthday. He was born on 22 February 1732.

You can read a number of articles regarding George Washington on my website, Mother Bedford, at:

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

That Old Bed Slapper

As you walk through an antique shop or mart, you come across many things that are interesting, but which baffle you as to for what purpose they were intended. Sometimes the age of the piece is the simple enticement to own the item; sometimes the design of the item entices one to buy it. Sometimes, as with the item shown above, the design, combined with the rich patina of age, captures the eye of the buyer.

Although the two or three most recent generations of people would not believe it, at one time, beds did not have mattresses constructed of cloth, foam and other soft materials. Way, way back, a bed's mattress was constructed of a large, flat cloth bag that would have been filled with straw and feathers ~ more feathers than straw if you were lucky.

The old mattresses were more comfortable than nothing (try sleeping on the floor for a while and you'll probably think a straw mattress is the most wonderful thing to have). A problem with the straw and feather mattress was that the materials would bunch up, making thick and thin spots. That's why the wooden object shown above, the subject of this post, was an important tool of the housewife.

This object is called a bed paddle. The housewife would use the bed paddle to slap the thick, bunched up portions of the mattress in order to smooth it out a bit. You couldn't just grab the mattress and shake it ~ that would simply make the straw and feathers bunch up in different spots. The bed paddle was a tool that, although a little heavy, was easily handled by the housewife. As she slapped it down onto the mattress, the straw and feathers in bunched up spots would be forced to level out. So with four or five slaps of the bed paddle, the housewife would have the bed's mattress smoothed out and ready for the next night's (better than nothing) restful sleep.

Notice in the photo below that this particular bed paddle was dated 1842.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A Tool That Required Cooperation

The cross-cut saw was a tool that had to be operated by two men, forcing them to work together in unison; they were forced to cooperate or else they'd have problems.

Before the gas-powered chain saw was invented, woodsmen used these long flat saws to cut down standing trees and also to cut a felled tree into manageable lengths. Each of two men would grasp their respective handles with both hands. Then, one of them would pull the saw forward, with the other man holding on but allowing the saw to be pulled away. As the saw reached its length and could be pulled no farther, the other man would tighten his grip and pull the saw toward himself. The first man, in turn, loosened his grip, allowing the saw to be pulled away from himself. This give and take, pull and release, continued until the tree was completely sawn through. The cross-cut saw was easier to use in cutting up a felled tree than in cutting down a standing tree. In the latter instance, the two men would be required to hold the saw horizontally, and it would have been difficult to apply pressure on the cutting edge. Cutting up a felled tree would take advantage of gravity to apply pressure on the cutting edge.

The cross-cut saw shown here measures fifty-nine inches (just less than five feet) in length.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Scottish Tid-Bit Just For The Fun Of It

This post has nothing to do with an item from our Colonial Period, but it came to mind, and I thought readers might enjoy it.

My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother (that's 27th great-, or 30 generations back, grandmother), Margaret of Wessex, a granddaughter of English King Edmund Ironside / daughter of Edward the Exile, and husband of Scottish King Malcolm III (Caenn-Mor), is credited with initiating the placement of buttons on the cuffs of men's coats.

Margaret, who was canonized as Saint Margaret by Pope Innocent IV in the year 1250, gained her sainthood as a result of her charitable work for the poor and sick of Edinburgh and the surrounding area, and her encouragement in the establishment of monasteries at places including Dumferline and Iona.

A number of stories about Margaret were circulated during her lifetime and after, one of which is the basis for this post. It has been claimed that Margaret was disgusted by the habit of men blowing and wiping their noses on the cuffs of their coat sleeves. She had buttons sewn on the cuffs of the coats of all the men attending at her court. The intention was for them to hurt their noses when they attempted to wipe their noses on their sleeves.
Another tradition claims that it was Frederick the Great, King of Prussia in the 1700s, who started the practice of sewing buttons on coat sleeves when he was offended by seeing his soldiers wiping the sweat from their brows onto their sleeves. He, as stated in the tradition of Saint Margaret, supposedly had buttons sewn on the cuffs so that the soldiers would cut their eyes as they wiped their brows.

Yet another tradition claims that it was Catherine the Great of Russia who started the cuff button practice.

Perhaps the Frederick the Great tradition is correct, perhaps the Catherine the Great tradition is the correct one, but since I descend directly from Margaret through the Mackintosh, Shaw and then Smith lines, I prefer to believe her tradition.

Necessity Is The Mother Of Invention

Nowadays, we tend to go to the store (most likely a Walmart), buy and item fabricated thousands of miles away (probably halfway around the world, in China), take it home, use it a couple times and then it breaks or stops working. So what do we do? We go back to the store, buy another of the same item (since there are twenty of them on the shelf) and start the use / discard / repurchase process all over again.

During the Colonial Period and the time of the American Revolutionary War, there weren't many stores where someone could conveniently buy the items they needed. In many cases, the person had to make the item him or herself ~ or else they made do without it. That is where the phrase Necessity Is The Mother Of Invention comes in.

During the Colonial Period, when someone needed something that they could not readily purchase, they resorted to finding something that would suit their purpose. Or they would find something that could be adjusted ~ they called it jerry-rigged ~ to suit their purpose. The item shown below is just such an item that was found to suit another purpose. Necessity motivated a person to invent this item out of another.

The item above is a bullet bag in which a soldier during the American Revolutionary War carried his bullets and other shot. The bullet bag is made of leather; cloth bags would have worn and become useless much faster than leather. Bullet bags, such as this, could have been made by cutting two similarly shaped pieces of leather and then sewing them together around their edges. The sewing would have been as difficult as any other leather item being sewn, and the sewn edge would have, like a cloth bag, been more quickly susceptible to tearing open.

The necessity of finding something of leather that could be used for holding bullets and the like that was already in the shape needed, led soldiers to using animal (especially bull) scrotums. They would be tanned and the open end fitted with a wooden or bone cylinder that would enable the bag to be stoppered shut.

The picture above shows three bullet bags from the American Revolutionary War period, the one in the center and the one on the left were made the laborious way of sewing two pieces of leather together. The soldier who had either of those two bags fabricated, would have had to spend a quite a bit to have them made by someone else ~ or else he spent a lot of time and effort making them himself. The one on the right, being the one illustrated at the top of this post, was the product of necessity, and probably cost very little to the soldier.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Who's Stupid Enough To Think You Make Wine In This?

I used to watch the show Pawn Stars, and I remember watching one episode in disbelief as the item shown here was highlighted.

The show's 'town idiot', Shumley, was trying to figure out what the item was. Although Shumley's grandfather got the name correct: demijohn, he was way off on what made it unique in the world of bottles. His suggestion was that this type of bottle, wrapped in a wicker casing, was used in the making of wine. And so the town idiot took up that suggestion and proceeded to push fresh grapes into the mouth of the bottle, in the assumption that wine would be miraculously produced.

 The demijohn was never intended to be used in the actual making of wine ~ anymore than any other bottle would have been used for that purpose. The glass bottle, wrapped in a wicker casing was intended to prevent breakage in transit. It was simply a Nineteenth Century attempt at keeping bottles intact and unbroken as they were carried from one place to another in bumpy carriages and wagons.

The name is believed to have been derived from the French term dame-jeanne, a popular name translating into English as 'Lady Jane'. The name was used to describe the bottle encased in wicker as early as the 1600s. Although the name demijohn is used to describe any sized glass bottle encased in wickerwork, in Great Britain, the name is used exclusively to refer to a one-gallon vessel, and in the Philippines, where the name is translated as dama juana, it refers to a fifteen-gallon vessel.

In the Appalachian region of the United States of America, including the south-central Pennsylvania region this item was called a jimmyjohn.

There is no doubt that many demijohns were used to transport wine throughout the years, but the making of wine was not their true purpose.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Ugly Butter

The butter, and margarine, that we use today is just plain dull and ugly. It's either just a cuboid (a 3D rectangle), if its what we call 'stick' butter or a truncated cone, if it's what we call a 'tub' of margarine. Either way, the sides of these three dimensional shapes are usually (as far as butter and margarine are concerned) flat and unadorned ~ hence, ugly.

During the Colonial Period, butter was a delight to look at ~ at least when it was first made ~ because it was pressed with a low-relief pattern or design.

Butter was made by most homesteaders by the following process: Milk would be collected from cows or goats and the cream would separate from the fresh milk simply by letting it sit for a while in a pan or shallow dish. The cream would rise to the top of the milk, and then it would be skimmed off and placed in a crock. The cream would be set aside in a cool place (such as a pantry or a spring house) for at least twelve hours to allow the butterfat in it to crystallize. This would make churning it a bit easier. Sometimes the cream would be set aside for a couple days ~ as additional cream would be collected over the period of those couple days, making the amount for churning more substantial. The cream would then be poured into a churn, and continual stirring and pounding would result in butter solidifying. The photos above show an upright or plunge churn with the plunger, sometimes called a dasher, exposed. The barrel or paddle churn was another type of churn in which the cream was agitated by a set of paddles inside a barrel shaped body (as shown in the photo to the right).
In addition to the soft mass of butter that was formed, there would be some liquid remaining, which did not solidify. That liquid is what was called buttermilk. The butter would be removed from the buttermilk in the churn, and it would be washed off in cold water to remove any remaining buttermilk. Then the soft butter would be placed in a wooden bowl and the person making the butter would knead it, folding it over on itself continually by using a wooden paddle. At this point, a little salt would be added to the soft butter, so that it would get thoroughly mixed in the kneading process.

As the soft butter would be kneaded, any additional moisture would be squeezed out of the mass. It was then ready to be pressed into nice conical shaped brick or block. This was accomplished by sprinkling a little flour into a wooden, plunger-type butter mold (so that the butter would come out more easily), then packing it tightly with the freshly kneaded butter.

The 'top' of the butter would take on the low relief design of the butter mold's face. The plunger on the butter mold would be pushed, resulting in the block of butter being pushed out of the mold, nicely shaped with the carved design on its top. The larger butter molds tended to provide a one or two pound block, while there are rather small butter molds designed to provide a small, individual-serving sized tab. The mold shown directly below is one of the small ones, it is shown a little larger than actual size.

All of the rest of the molds shown here are larger ones, measuring between five and six inches in diameter. As the photos show, the patterns on butter molds tended to be geometric, but some molds, such as the one shown below showing a swan, were of birds and other animals.

It's a shame that we don't use butter molds to decorate our butter nowadays. Instead, we're stuck with ugly butter ~ or worse, tasteless margarine.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

They're Not Grass Snips

I was at an antique shop last week and saw an item that was similar to one that I own. The tag on the item listed it as "grass snips". 

Apparently the antique dealer had not had enough time to check on the item before placing it on the shelf. The fact of the matter was that the item was actually sheep shears. They were the type of shears that were used throughout the world prior to the advent of the electric clippers.

This type of sheep shears are still being produced and sold to those sheep farmers who prefer to shear their sheep the old fashioned way.

The Draft ~ 233 Years Ago

Two hundred and thirty three years ago, this Saturday (09 February 1780), the first draft (i.e. the forced enrollment into the army) was initiated by the Second Continental Congress. The delegates assembled in Congress called on the various states of the fledgling United States of America to furnish approximately 35,000 more troops for the Continental Army.

The American Revolutionary War was not yet concluded. Active fighting was still underway throughout the southern colonies; the siege of Yorktown would not begin for another year and a half (in September 1781). So the prospects of the need for troops to continue the fight were very real. On the 1st of February, the delegates assembled in Congress were presented with a report of the Board of War which noted the quota of troops they felt would be needed for the ensuing year's campaigns. The state of Pennsylvania's quota was 4,855 men.

The subject was tabled a couple days, and finally was put to a vote on 09 February, at which time it was "Resolved, That for the ensuing campaign the states be respectively required to furnish, by draughts or otherwise, on or before the first day of April next, their respective deficiencies of the number of 35,211 men, exclusive of commissioned officers, which Congress deem necessary for the service of the present year."

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Pieces Of Eight

There exists, in the modern psyche, a romantic image of pirates and pieces~of~eight. The pirates, we know from historical accounts and trial transcripts, were very real. Perhaps some of their exploits were exaggerated, but there were indeed a number of them, especially English and French ones. And those English and French pirates tended to prey upon Spanish galleons. Those Spanish galleons were transporting troops to the colonies in the New World, and those troops were plundering native stockpiles of gold and silver. The gold and silver was then being shipped back to Spain in the ships that the troops had come over in. Laden with treasures and manned by reduced crews (the space for the rest being taken up by the silver and gold cargo), the Spanish galleons were easy prey for the English and French pirates. It's all very romantic with celluloid blood spurting from swashbuckling sword fights and all.

And then there's the pieces~of~eight. Before being banned from public school libraries due to PG-13 violence and language, Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island was required reading for schoolboys and girls. And in the depths of that volume we first learned about pieces~of~eight. 

During the Colonial Period, the Spanish equivalent of a U.S. dollar or English pound sterling was the eight reales Peso~De~Ocho, variously known in trade as Pillar Dollars (due to their distinctive design which included the Pillars of Hercules depicted on the reverse). They became known in English as Pieces~Of~Eight (which is the translation of 'peso de ocho'). There were also Four Reale coins, Two Reale coins, and One Reale coins. Four reales were the equivalent of 50% of the total dollar; they were known as four 'bits'. Two reales were the equivalent of 25% of the total dollar; they were known as two 'bits'. And one reale, or one 'bit' was the equivalent of 12.5% of the total dollar.

In the romantic version of the pirate story, a pirate would cut one of his Eight Reale coins into 'pieces' if he needed less than the total dollar amount. (A bottle of rum might have cost one dollar and two bits.) And so we have the romantic image of pirates carrying whole coins, coins cut in two, and little pie-slice pieces - because he was all the time cutting his eight reale Peso coins into smaller segments. 

But we have a problem with that romantic image. Why don't we have hoards and hoards of little pie-slice segments of these coins? If the entire, whole coins could survive through the years, allowing us to find them in treasure troves and in people's attics, why don't we find the segments? The only segments that I have seen were groupings of eight segments recently cut from a whole coin in order to illustrate what the pirates were doing all the time to their own coins. Did the segments dissolve after they were cut from the whole coin? The fact of the matter is that, more than likely, the romantic image of the coin being cut into smaller segments came moreso from the name being misunderstood rather than being representative of a physical act of actually cutting the coins into segments.

The name Piece~Of~Eight did not signify that the coin was intended to be cut into so many segments. If that were the case, the design on either the reverse or the obverse would have included grooves making the cutting into such segments easier. The name Piece~Of~Eight implied that the coin was one 'piece' (Spanish: peso, meaning dollar) consisting of eight reales. If the Spanish Treasury had intended the eight reales coins to be cut into segments, there would have been no reason for them to mint the Four Reales, Two Reales, and One Reales coins.

Take notice, in the topmost image, along the left edge, is the numeral/letter: 8R signifying that the coin is a peso of eight reales. Also notice that the bottom coin, in the photo on the left, also appearing along the left edge, is the numeral/letter: 2R signifying that the coin is a peso of two reales. (I wonder why they never became known as pieces~of~two?)

Friday, February 1, 2013

February 2

Don't forget, tomorrow is Candlemas.

You thought I was going to say "Ground Hog Day", didn't you? 

Even though it has recently come to be known as Ground Hog Day, the 2nd of February was, traditionally, the day set aside to celebrate the purification of the Virgin Mary and the diety of Jesus, the Christ.

The day was marked by the carrying of lighted candles as noted in a proclamation issued by the English King Henry VIII which stated: "On Candlemas Daye it shall be declared that the bearynge of candels is done in the memorie of Christe, the spirituall lyghte, when Simeon dyd prophecye, as it is redde in the churche that daye."

Thomas Bacon, in his book, Reliques of Rome published in London on 1563, stated that "Sometyme when the Romaines by great myght and royal power conquered all the world, they were so proude, that they forgat God, and made them divers gods after their own lust. And so among all they had a god that they called Mars, that had been tofore a notable knight in battayle; and so they prayed to hym for help, and for that they would speed the better of this knight, the people prayed and did great worship to his mother, that was called Februa, after which woman much people have opinion that the moneth February is called. Wherefore the second daie of thys moneth is Candlemass Day. The Romaines this night went about the city of Rome with torches and candles brenning in worship of this woman Februa, for hope to have the more helpe and succore of her sonne Mars. Then there was a Pope that was called Sergius, and when he saw Christian people drawn to this false maumetry and untrue belief, he thought to undo this foule use and custom, and turn it unto God's worship and our Lady's, and gave commandment that all Christian people should come to church and offer up a candle brennyng, in the worship that they did to this woman Februa, and do worship to our Lady and to her sonne our Lord Jesus Christ. So that now this feast is solemnly hallowed thorowe all Christendome. And every Christian man and woman of covenable age is bound to come to church and offer up their candles, as though they were bodily with our Lady, hopyng for this reverence and worship, that they do to our Ladye, to have a great rewarde in heaven, &c."

More information regarding the holiday can be found on my MotherBedford website at: Holidays Celebrated In The Colonial Period .

Were Silk Top Hats Originally Made From Beaver Skins?

The name silk top hat is a generally accepted name for the type of men's headgear more correctly called a top hat, but variously called a high hat, cylinder hat, chimneypot hat or stovepipe hat.

The earliest reference to the top hat, per se, comes from the 1790s. But men's hats were popular much earlier than that. During the Colonial period, men's hats took the form of the tri-corn, or three-cornered hat. The tri-corn was simply a variation of the standard farmer's hat used to shield his eyes from the sun.

The three-cornered hat consisted of a somewhat low, round crown surrounded by a wide brim, which was gathered against the crown and held in place by 'blocking' or shaping it over a wooden block form. By the 1790s, the top hat became popular. Instead of a low, round crown, the top hat took the form of a cylinder with a flat top. A flat brim, smaller than that of the tri-corn, was lifted up slightly on either side, but not on the front or back. The height of the cylindrical shaped crown varied over the years, sometimes, as in the case of the 'stovepipe' hat, reaching absurdly tall dimensions.

The first top hats, like the tri-corn, were originally made of felt, derived most often from the soft under fur of beaver pelts.

Felt for hats were also made from sheep wool or the fur from other mammals such as otters, muskrats and rabbits. The longer 'guard' hairs were pulled out of the pelt and discarded. Then the soft under fur, called the muffoon, was scraped off the pelt with a sharp knife. The loose fur was placed in a pile on a table, and the hatter then pulled and released the string of his stang (a special bow fitted with a sheep-gut string) so that the string smacked the pile of fur.  As this process was repeated, the individual hairs of the fur began to stick together because of their scaly structure. The vibration of the process of smacking the loose fur with the stang also caused the individual hairs to crisscross each other in a random fashion that contributed to their sticking together. The somewhat flattened pile of loose fur was then flattened even more (into what was called a batt) by the hatter using a type of basket made of wooden slats. The batts, which were roughly triangular in shape with each side measuring about three feet, were then placed on a pile, separated from one another by a wet sheet of linen. Absorbing the moisture from the linen sheets, the batts became more solidified. A hatter would then take a pair of batts with the linen sheets in place, and knead and form them into a conical shape. The resulting cone shaped piece of felt was called a hood. The hoods would be placed into a kettle of boiling water and allowed to boil for between six and eight hours. In the process of boiling (also known as fulling), the hoods would shrink, binding the fibers together even tighter. The hoods were then dipped into the battery, which was a large kettle in which a mild acid was kept boiling. This caused the hoods to become even more solidified, and when removed from the acid bath, ready to be blocked and shaped. The shaping was done by placing the still hot, soaking wet hood over a wooden form, either low and round for tri-corn hats, or cylindrical and flat-topped for top hats, and then striking or rubbing it repeatedly with a small wooden club until it conformed to the shape of the wooden block. After the crown was satisfactorily blocked into shape, the brim would be flattened and smoothed using a wooden tool called a tolliker. The hat would then be placed in a warm oven to dry overnight. The next morning, excess material would be trimmed off the edge of the brim with a knife, and the brim would be rubbed with a pumice stone. The brim's edge would be turned over on itself to give a smooth, finished look. The entire surface of the hat would be ironed and then brushed with a fuller's brush to raise the nap. High points would be cut off with a fuller's shears, and then a final brushing was done to make sure that all of the individual hairs were lying in the same direction. 

The finisher completed the process by sewing a leather or satin sweatband to the inside edge and a silk ribbon to the outside, around the crown where it met the brim. Many of the early hats were left in their natural (fur) color, but when it became fashionable in the 1820s and 30s for top hats to be black, they would be dyed prior to the addition of the sweatband and ribbons.

Around the year 1830 silk fibers began to be used in addition to, or in place of, the beaver fur. Initially a fur/felt hat would be produced and then its surface covered with a coating of shellac, onto which silk plush would be sprinkled. Later on, as the beaver fur became less and less available, the hat's structure was made from calico. The use of beaver fur in hat making eventually died out around the 1860s. The silk fibers, or plush, that were used in hat making were produced by a special type of machine up until the 1970s.

It might be noted that the fumes from the acid in the battery, around which the hatters worked, would sometimes lead to mental instability ~ hence the phrase: Mad as a Hatter.