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CHAPTER III.

CUSTOMS OF THE SETTLERS.

Log Houses. — The houses of the early settlers, with their rough log walls and huge open fireplaces, make an interesting picture around which to group the more detailed life of this time. These log cabins were rectangular structures with openings cut through for windows and doors. The well-trodden earth served as a floor, and the roof was of saplings covered with birch-bark. The chinks between the logs were packed with moss and clay, so that not even the coldest wind could beat through them. Above the main room was a garret made by laying a floor of poles on a level with the eaves. Here was the children’s bedroom, and often on a winter’s night the snow sifted through the cracks of the roof and covered them as they slept.

A most important part of each cabin was its huge chimney, made of rough stones laid in clay. It is said that in those days the lightest part of the house was near the fireplace, for the chimney made such a large opening to the sky. Often the sides, projecting into the house, were made so roughly that they were used by the children as a staircase on which to clamber up into the loft.

The Open Fire. — The enormous fireplace consumed great quantities of wood, and it was no small matter to keep it supplied. To attend to the “working up”  and bringing in of the day’s wood was the business of the boys. Sometimes, when they had an unusually large “back log,” they would fasten themselves to it by means of a harness, and, with a shout, all hands hauling together, the log, often six feet long, went bounding across the yard, through the door, and up to the fireplace, where it was rolled to the back, against the stones. Upon it was placed a smaller back stick, and in front rested the fore stick. When these were in position, the smaller wood was heaped upon the andirons before them.

In starting the fire, a piece of steel was struck sharply against a bit of flint, and the sparks which were given off were caught upon tinder, — a piece of charred cloth. The spark was then carefully nursed into a flame by gently blowing upon it. In later years small sticks with both ends dipped in sulphur were used to assist in making a fire. When once lighted, it was supposed never to go out. During the night the father tried to “keep fire” by burying a hard wood brand in the ashes. If for any reason no live coals could be found in the morning, the boys were sent to the nearest neighbor to “borrow fire.”

In case there were no neighbors, the laborious process with the flint and steel had to be repeated. When it was fully started, a glorious blaze was the result. In the evening each crack and corner of the cabin was well lighted, and no more cheerful scene can be imagined than the family circle gathered about the fireplace, the grandfather seated in the high-backed settle, and the children in the chimney corner.

Over the coals the women of the family did their cooking. The pots and kettles were suspended by a chain and hook, which hung from a wooden bar, placed across the chimney and high enough to be free from the danger of burning. Later, an iron crane was fastened on hinges at the side of the fireplace, by which the goodwife could more easily swing her pots and kettles on and off the blaze.

Methods of Cooking. — The Dutch oven was the earliest form of a baking utensil. It was a shallow iron pan with a tightly fitting cover. When the bread had been placed within, it was put in the hot ashes and covered with glowing coals. The more common method of baking was by means of stone ovens, made in the chimney at the side of the fireplace. On baking day, which was generally once a week, the oven was filled with hot coals, and after the sides had become thoroughly heated, they were raked out and the brown bread, beans, pies, and puddings were placed within. A door, usually of wood, was then set at the mouth of the oven and kept there until the food was cooked.

The meats were always roasted before the open fire, either upon a spit, a long iron rod with a crank at one end, which rested on hooks placed in the andirons, or by means of a hook and line. With the latter the meat was suspended before the fire, and by turning the piece round and round, the string was tightly twisted, and when left alone would slowly unwind, thus exposing every side of the meat to the heat. To see that this winding process continued, a small boy was chosen and was armed with a long stick to keep up the motion. Besides roast venison, bear meat, turkey, and other game, our forefathers’ food consisted of beans, peas, squashes, pumpkins, and turnips. The cooking was of the simplest character, but their out-of-door life gave them excellent appetites, and an abundance was always provided. They were very hospitable people, and the stranger, as well as the neighbor, was always made welcome to a share in the dinner or supper, as the case might be.

Coarsely ground Indian meal served as a basis for many dishes, and hominy formed a staple article for the evening meal. The early settlers were very fond of the dish called bean porridge. It was made by boiling beans with the liquor in which corned beef had been cooked. They believed that the longer the bean porridge was kept, the better it became.

Oftentimes the goodman of the household, when compelled to make a journey in the winter, would be provided with a frozen cake of porridge, and from this, as hunger overtook him, he would break off and thaw out pieces for his luncheon.

The method of cooking pumpkins was peculiar. Having selected one which was thoroughly ripe, a small hole was cut in the top and the seeds were removed; after it had been well baked in the oven, the soft pulp on the inside was eaten with milk and considered a great delicacy. The outside shell, hardened by baking, was often used by the grandmother for a workbasket.

Bread was made of rye and Indian meal mixed, and resembled the brown bread of to-day. Our wheat bread was then unknown.

Cooking Utensils. — The women took especial pride in keeping all of the copper and pewter cooking utensils scoured to a most remarkable brilliancy, especially the plates, platters, and porringers, which they kept for show on a set of shelves called a dresser. The everyday plates, made of wood, were usually square in shape, but it was no uncommon thing for the family to dispense with plates entirely, and to gather around and eat from the same kettle. Forks were unknown, and next to spoons, fingers were most often used. Spoons, like plates and ladles, were made from pewter, which is so soft that they had to be very thick and clumsy and were even then easily broken.

Traveling Workmen. — Men used to travel from house to house with ladle and spoon moulds. They would melt up the broken and worn-out spoons and run them into moulds. When cool, the articles were as good as new. The shoemaker, in like manner, traveled from one family to another. With his hammer and waxed ends he made the outfit of boots for the entire household, the leather being provided by the father from the tanned skins of his own cattle. For the purpose of making leather, many tanneries were scattered about on the banks of the small streams.

All clothing at this time was homespun, and it devolved upon the women of the household to card and spin the wool, which was then woven into cloth. In families where there were many children, the mother was often unable to provide more than one set of clothes apiece, and, as a result, when these needed washing, the children had to go to bed while it was done. The story is told of one economical goodwife that she made her boys wear their shirts part of the time with the back toward the front, so that there might be an equal wear on both sides.

The knee breeches of the men were sometimes made from the dressed skins of the deer or sheep and were exceedingly durable, but were apt in wet weather to stretch, and impede the progress of the person wearing them.

As may be judged, the women of these early days were compelled to be industrious. For a person to buy clothing was considered the height of extravagance. In every homestead were cards and a great wheel for spinning the woolen thread, also the little wheel with its reel and its swifts for the linen, while in every kitchen was placed the dye tub, in which the linen and the woolen cloth were colored.

Process of Making Linen Cloth. — The Scotch-Irish were particularly skillful in raising flax and in weaving linen. Before they came to America, the linen cloth made in the colonies had been very coarse and rough, but they produced such fine goods that the linen of New Hampshire was famous throughout New England.

It is interesting to note the methods used by our ancestors in the manufacture of linen. After the flax was pulled and the seeds threshed out, it was placed out of doors and exposed to the weather, in order that the woody part of the flax might become tender enough to separate easily from the fibres. In the month of March, after the snow had left, the flax was gathered into barns, and the softened woody part was removed by a process which was called breaking. Afterwards, the flax was “swingled.” This was done by pounding it with a heavy wooden knife which served to separate the fine fibres from the coarser tow. It was then combed, that is, it was drawn over a rough, iron-toothed comb again and again, which drew out all the imperfect fibres from the flax, when it was ready for the distaff and the spinning wheel.

Maple Sugar Making. — In the early spring, before the snow had gone, and just as the buds were beginning to swell on the maples, the men and boys would journey to the mountain sides, where rock maple trees were plentiful, and there make a sugar Camp. They first went about from tree to tree, and, while one with a sharp axe cut through the bark, in which he put a chip for the sap to run out on, the other placed the wooden troughs beneath, in which the “sweet water” slowly accumulated. After it was gathered, the sap was placed in a huge kettle and suspended over the fire in such a way that it could be easily swung off the blaze when required. Made thus in the open air, the cinders and sparks fell into the syrup and rendered it rather dark colored, but, nevertheless, to the children maple sugar meant all that was good and sweet.


MAPLE SUGAR CAMP
(From an old print)

When almost boiled down to sugar, a little of the hot, thick syrup was taken from the kettle and spread on pans of snow; the “maple wax” thus formed made most delicious candy not only for the children, but for the older people as well. The Indians taught the settlers the uses of maple sugar, and it makes one other good thing which we have received from them.

Hunting and Trapping. — During the winter, when there was little work about the house, the older boys generally spent their time in hunting and trapping. The woods and streams abounded in fur-bearing animals, and their skins, being highly prized by ladies in England, were easily exchanged for powder, lead, tea, and other things which the settler could not produce. Steel traps were unknown, and they used the Indian device called figure four traps. The black bears, which were- very troublesome through their fondness for corn, were caught in what were known as “dead falls.” The trapper first felled a good-sized tree along the base of which a semicircle of stout stakes was driven into the ground. The butt of the tree was then raised and a figure four trap was put in the semicircle of stakes, baited with a piece of fresh meat. When the bear went in to eat the bait, the tree trunk fell, breaking his back.

Means of Exchange. — Money was very scarce, and men had to barter or exchange things of which they had an abundance for those which they needed. The Indians, with their flint tools, laboriously cut out from the curly part of shells, or from the dark spots in clam shells, beads an eighth of an inch through and a quarter of an inch long, which they called wampum. To the Indians they represented a great deal of painstaking work and were highly valued. There were two kinds, the white and the black, and one black bead was worth two white ones. The beads were strung on threads of buckskin, and the Indians adorned themselves with belts made from several of these strings bound together. The Dutch in New Amsterdam first thought of using wampum for money, and the idea spread until it was used all over New England.

Founding a Home. — It was often difficult for a young man with very little money to purchase land in the older settlements and to make a home for himself, so it became necessary for him to start out into the wilderness, where the land was unclaimed. Usually three or four men banded together, and with their axes, guns, and a little corn meal went into the pathless forest, “blazing” the trees along their way. When they came to a piece of land which they thought suitable for making a home, a rough cabin was built for a temporary shelter, and then each cleared the land set apart for himself. They were all skillful axe-men, these young settlers, for, in those days, all the firewood of the house was “got up” and split by the boys; the constant practice made their arms strong and their eyes true, so that, in what would seem a very short time, they could clear off the trees from enough ground for the support of their families.

In clearing the forest they did not, as one might suppose, chop every tree entirely off, but, having found a number of trees in a line, they partly chopped each one, and then felled a large tree on the end of the line and let it fall against the second to knock it down. The second brought down the third, the third the next one, and so on, until, with a noise and cracking like thunder, the entire line came crashing to the earth.

As there were no good roads to the harbor, the trees were worth nothing for lumber, so that every effort was made to get rid of them as fast as possible.

This was done by burning. The young men, after clearing sufficient land, would return to their homes and wait patiently until the hot summer sun should dry the sap in the felled trees, so that they could have a burn, as it was called. When the wind and the weather were favorable, they set fire to the fallen trees, and with a tremendous whirling and rushing sound the giants of the forest passed off in fire and smoke, leaving only their ashes behind. These ashes were of importance to the settlers, as they were exceedingly valuable for enriching the soil. Great crops of pumpkins and of corn could be raised from the little patches among the half-burned stumps and logs.

When the land was cleared, each of the young men made a cabin on his own share and then went back to the settlement and brought his wife to live with him in his new home. Often there was no road to their farms, and they had simply blazed trees to, follow. The corn had to be carried to mill many miles over such rough paths, either on a man’s back or on a horse.

Mills for Grinding Corn. — One of the first things that the settlers did was to construct grist mills for grinding corn and grain. They built the mill beside a swiftly running brook, for the falling water furnished the power to turn the wheel. The dam was built as it would be now, only more simply. Under the dam, where the water falls over, a huge wheel was placed with buckets on its rim. As the buckets filled at the top, the weight of the water carried the wheel around, which was made to turn two large flat stones, one upon the other. The corn, or grain, sifted down between these stones and was ground into meal. It took longer to grind the grain than it does now, and the meal was much coarser. The miller was paid for his labor by receiving a certain portion of the corn, or, perhaps, by the skins of the beaver or the otter which the settler had trapped during the winter.

Trials of Strength and Skill. — It was customary at the raising and moving of buildings, at town meetings, and at other gatherings where large bodies of men met together, to have trials of strength and skill. Lifting heavy weights, pitching quoits, throwing iron bars, pulling sticks, and wrestling were taken part in and enjoyed by every one. Wrestling, which might be termed the typical sport of our forefathers, was always sharply contested by the men and boys. Usually the boys started the contest, and each defeated party brought in his champion to meet the victor. Thus the match went on, until the boys’ places were gradually taken by men. The one who threw his man in the last encounter was said to have “carried the ring.” All men distinguished in wrestling were known not only by their own townspeople, but often their reputation spread through the neighboring villages. It was customary for these champions to travel many miles for a trial of skill.

The following anecdote from the “History of Manchester” is characteristic of the times. A person called at the house of John McNeil of Londonderry, having heard of his strength and skill as a wrestler. McNeil, however, was away from home. The stranger informed Mrs. McNeil that he regretted this exceedingly, as he had traveled a long distance for no other purpose than to “throw him.”

“An’ troth, mon,” said Mrs. McNeil, “Johnnie is gone, but I’m not the woman to see you disappointed. An’ I think if ye’ll try, mon, I’ll throw ye meself.”

The stranger, not liking to be made fun of by a woman, accepted the challenge, but no sooner had they taken hold when, by a deft “trip and twitch,” the man’s heels flew up, and his back was laid squarely on the ground. Upon arising, he decided not to wait for Johnnie, and, in fact, did not even leave his name.

Shipbuilding and Commerce. — One of the important resources which helped in developing our state was the great quantity of codfish off the coast. The colonists soon built boats from their lumber, and spent much time in fishing. The fish was dried, salted, and shipped to foreign countries, where it was in constant demand. Thus a profitable commerce grew very rapidly.

Shipbuilders soon came from England who taught the settlers how to build boats. They were usually two-masted vessels, called “ketches,” and very few of them were over a hundred tons burden. Loaded with staves for making wine barrels, and with salt fish, they were sent to Barbadoes, in the West Indies, where the cargo was exchanged for cotton cloth, sugar, molasses, rum, indigo, salt, and sometimes negro slaves; often they went to Italy, Spain, or Portugal and brought back oil and wine.

Little coasting vessels, manned only by a “captain” and an apprentice boy, traded between Piscataqua (Portsmouth), Boston, Plymouth, and other New England towns, and even sailed as far as New Amsterdam and Virginia for tobacco. Each sailor on these trips usually owned a small portion of freight, the profit from which “venture” belonged to him, after he had paid a certain sum for the transportation; this practice helped to interest the men in the success of the voyage. Gradually the vessels were increased in size and number. At one time Portsmouth had over two hundred boats of two or three hundred tons burden.

While the colonists were paying so much attention to ocean traffic, they did not neglect their inland trade, but built roads between the settlements, bridged the streams, and established taverns at convenient distances. Travel along these roads was almost entirely on horseback.

Early Schools. — The New Hampshire people have always taken great pride in education. One of the first buildings put up in a town, after the meeting- house was completed, was a log schoolhouse. In 1647 a law was passed requiring that a school should be kept in every town of fifty householders. The teacher, usually a man, was given about fifty dollars a year for his services.

Along three sides of these first schoolrooms were placed slabs upon which the older pupils wrote and worked their sums. The slabs were fastened by one edge to the walls of the building, the other edge being supported by legs driven securely into auger holes in the floor. For seats, hewn planks were used into which stakes were driven. Inside of this outer circle were seats for the younger children. This arrangement made it necessary for the pupils to sit facing the walls with their backs toward the teacher. In the center of the room was placed the master’s desk, and from his throne he watched with eagle eye the work of the youths under his charge. One may easily appreciate the feelings of the mischievous boys, who, with their backs toward the teacher, were never certain when he was not looking at them. This feeling of insecurity must have been heightened by the knowledge that there lay on the desk a hickory switch long enough to reach every boy in the room, and that, too, without the master leaving his chair.

On the third side of the schoolroom was the huge fireplace with large, flat stones for andirons. Inasmuch as the chimney was never very high, and as green wood was burned, oftentimes the first part of the morning exercises was conducted in a cloud of smoke. The building of the fire was allotted to the older boys, who took turns in attending to this duty, as well as to the splitting of the wood. The older girls kept the room swept and cleaned. The windows were placed high, so that the attention of the children should not be distracted by outside affairs.

To schools of this description our ancestors trudged. Fortunate were those who lived near. Many, however, were compelled to walk several miles after having helped their fathers with the chores, or their mothers with the household duties.

The Meeting-House and Pound. — Near the meetinghouse was stationed the pound, a stone enclosure where stray cattle were kept and from which they could not be claimed until a small fine was paid by the owner. Often the sexton of the church was appointed pound-keeper in order that the fees of the one might supplement the pay of the other. The meeting-houses were usually large, barn-like structures and without the steeple so characteristic at the present time. The pews were high, square boxes, with cushionless seats, on which the small boys sat and squirmed during sermons seldom less than two hours long.

Directly in front of the high pulpit with its overhanging sounding-board was a broad bench known as the deacons’ seat. The aged deacons were accustomed to protect their heads from drafts by wearing bright colored flannel caps; and sitting in full gaze of the congregation, they presented a most imposing and venerable appearance. It was their duty to “line the hymn” which they did by reading two lines of a stanza, after which the congregation joined them in singing the same. Then two more lines were read and sung in like manner, and this was continued to the end of the hymn.

Stoves were unknown in these old meeting-houses, and even in midwinter the congregation sat and shivered through the long sermons and prayers. However, an exception was made of the older women who brought small foot-stoves of perforated sheet-iron in which were placed pans of glowing coals. Often when they lived at a distance, they filled their pans at some of the neighboring houses.

Duties of the Tithing-Man. — An official whose duties would be considered strange at the present day was the tithing-man. It was his place to see that the Sabbath was respected by all people; that on that day there should be no work, travel or amusements of any kind, no loafing around the tavern or other unseemly conduct. On Sunday, while service was being held, he was provided with a “black staff ten feet in length, tipped at one end with brass or with pewter” and armed with this implement, he quietly touched a slumbering elder or punched a mischievous boy.

Everybody was supposed to attend meeting. The goodman and goodwife usually rode on horseback, the wife seated behind her husband on a “pillion,” while the children trudged “across lots” on foot. An example of thrift may be learned from the fact that boys and girls, during the summer months, always walked to church, barefooted, with their shoes and stockings under their arms. These were put on before entering the building, and were always carefully removed after the services were ended. 

The Keeping of Slaves. — Several of the old New Hampshire families kept African or Indian slaves and many vessels were engaged in the slave trade. A cargo of rum and of iron bars was often shipped to Africa and exchanged for negroes, who were taken to Barbadoes and sold. The vessel returned laden with molasses to be made into rum with which to purchase more slaves. Some of the negroes were brought home and sold in the market like cattle; however, slaves were not kept to any great extent in New Hampshire.


THE SULLIVAN SLAVE HOUSE

Serving an Apprenticeship. — The tradesmen were organized into guilds, or unions, and had very strict rules about admitting a new member. If a boy wanted to learn the trade of a carpenter, blacksmith, ship-builder, or sailor, he had to be bound out as an apprentice to a master mechanic, sometimes for seven years. During this time he was virtually owned by his master and had to work hard in return for his teaching and for his board and clothes.

The King’s Trees. — The white pine trees growing in New England were very valuable as masts for the navy, and it was largely on this account that Britain became so great a naval power. Every large pine tree was marked with the king’s arrow to be used for masts in the royal fleet and a tree thirty-five inches through was worth five hundred dollars.

These mast trees were often over a hundred feet high, and it was difficult to fell them without breaking or cracking. Smaller trees were cut and laid in the path which the large one was to take when it went over, in order to break the force of the blow. Then the branches were lopped off and about two hundred oxen were used to draw or “twitch” it to the river bank. It was very hard to get so many animals started together, and when the log finally began to move they were not allowed to stop; if an ox fell, he was cut loose and another was put in his place without stopping the team.

Piscataqua (Portsmouth) was the headquarters for this trade until 1727. In 1665 as many as seven or eight ships at a time were loading masts in the harbor, and when the trade was at its height, Piscataqua owned two hundred mast ships. They went so often and so regularly that the mail was sent by them.

The pine and fir trees also supplied material from which the colonists made the best of tar, pitch, turpentine and resin.

Improved Methods of Building. — All this trading made the colonists richer, and the enterprising men were able to build more comfortable houses than heretofore. They were built of bricks laid in clay, and with a coat of smoothed clay plastered on the inside of the walls. The outside was then covered with narrow boards called “clayboards,” which word was afterwards changed to “clapboards.” Later, a frame was made of heavy timbers covered on the outside with clapboards and plastered on the inside, much as houses are built now. The lime for the plastering was made by burning sea shells. The colonists were also able to have glass in their windows, as they could import it in exchange for their goods, or obtain it from Massachusetts, where there was a glass factory. The first glass was diamond shaped and each pane was very small and was set in lead, just as those of our stained glass windows are at the present time. The first floor of the better class of houses had a large “keeping-room” or parlor, which was used only on great occasions. Then there was a kitchen, often twenty feet square, a bedroom, a cheese room and a butter room. A large brick chimney went up through the middle of the house with a great open fireplace in each of the main rooms and with closets in the space on either side. “The kitchens of the period were the true home centers and the best of New England life gathered around the chimney and the hearthstone.”


A KITCHEN FIREPLACE

As night drew on, and, from the crest
Of wooded knolls that ridged the west,
The sun, a snow-blown traveller, sank
From sight beneath the smothering bank,
We piled with care our nightly stack
Of wood against the chimney-back, —
The oaken log, green, huge and thick,
And on its top the stout backstick;
The knotty forestick laid apart,
And filled between with curious art
The ragged brush; then, hovering near,
We watched the first red blaze appear,
Heard the sharp crackle, caught the gleam
On whitewashed wall and sagging beam,
Until the old, rude-furnished room
Burst, flower-like, into rosy bloom
While radiant with a mimic flame
Outside the sparkling drift became,
And through the bare-boughed lilac-tree
Our own warm hearth seemed blazing free.
The crane and pendent trammels showed,
The Turk’s heads on the andirons glowed.

JOHN G. WHITTIER, “Snow-Bound.”


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