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IT is easy to gain a definite notion of the furnishing of colonial houses from a contemporary and reliable source the inventories of the estates of the colonists. These are, of course, still preserved in court records. As it was customary in early days to enumerate with much minuteness the various articles of furniture contained in each room, instead of classifying or aggregating them, we have the outlines of a clear picture of the household belongings of that day.
The first room beyond the threshold of the door that one finds named in the houses "of the richer sort," is the entry. This was apparently always bare of furniture, and indeed well it might be, for it was seldom aught but a vestibule to the rest of the house, containing, save the staircase, but room enough to swing the front door in opening. Dr. Lyon gives the inventory of John Salmon of Boston in the year 1750 as the earliest record which he has found of the use of the word hall instead of entry, as we now employ it. In the Boston News Letter, thirty one years earlier, on August 24th, 1719, I find this advertisement:
"Fine Glass Lamps & Lanthorn well gilt and painted both Convex and Plain. Being suitable for Halls, staircases, or other Passage ways, at the Glass Shop in Queen Street." This advertisement is, however, exceptional. The hall in Puritan houses was not a passageway, it was the living-room, the keeping-room, the dwelling-room, the sitting-room; in it the family sat and ate their meals in it they lived. Let us see what was the furniture of a Puritan home-room in early days, and what its value. The inventory of the possessions of Theophilus Eaton, Governor of the New Haven colony, is often quoted. At the time of his death, in 1657, he had in his hall,
"A drawing Table & a round table, £1.18s.
A cubberd & 2 long formes, 14s.
A cubberd cloth & cushions, 13s.; 4 setwork cushions 12s. £1.5.
6 greene cushions, 12s; a greate chaire with needleworke, 13s. £1.5.
2 high chaires set work, 20s; 4 high stooles set worke, 26s 8d £6.6.8.
4 low chaires set works, 6s 8d, £1.6.8.
2 low stooles set works, 10s.
2 Turkey Carpette, £2; 6 high joyn stooles, 6s. £2.6.
A pewter cistern & candlestick, 4s.
A pr of great brass Andirons, 12s.
A pr of small Andirons, 6s 8d
A pr of doggs, 2s 6d.
A pr of tongues fire pan & bellowes, 7s."
Now, this was a very liberally furnished living-room. There were plenty of seats for diners and loungers, if Puritan ever lounged; two long forms and a dozen stools of various heights, with green or embroidered cushions, upon which to sit while at the Governor's board; and seven chairs, gay with needlework covers, to draw around his fireplace with its shining paraphernalia of various sized andirons, tongs, and bellows. The low, heavy-raftered room with these plentiful seats, the tables with their Turkey covers, the picturesque cupboard with its rich cloth, and its display of the Governor's silver plate, all aglow with the light of a great wood fire, make a pretty picture of comfortable simplicity, pleasant of contemplation in our bric-a-brac filled days, a fit setting for the figures of the Governor, "New England's glory full of warmth and light," and his dearest, greatest, best of temporal enjoyments, his "vertuous, prudent and prayerful wife."
Contemporary inventories make more clear and more positive still this picture of a planter's homeroom, for similar furniture is found in all. All the halls had cisterns for water or for wine (and I fancy they stood on the small table usually mentioned); all had a table for serving meals; a majority had the cupboard; a few had "picktures" or "lookeing glasses;" very rarely a couch or "day-bed" was seen; some had "lanthorn" as well as candlesticks; others a spinning-wheel for the good wife, when she "keep it close the house and birlit at the wheel."
Chairs were a comparatively rare form of furniture in New England in early colonial days, nor were they frequently seen in humble English homes of that date. Stools and forms were the common seats. Turned, wainscot, and covered chairs are the three distinct types mentioned in the seventeenth century.
Turned chairs are shown in good examples in what are known as the Carver and Brewster chairs, now preserved in Pilgrim Hall in Plymouth. The president's chair at Harvard College is another ancient turned chair.
The seats of many of these chairs were of flags and rushes. The bark of the elm and bass trees was also used for bottoming chairs.
The wainscot chairs were all of wood, seats as well as backs, usually of oak. They were frequently carved or panelled. One now in Pilgrim Hall is known as the Winslow chair. Another fine specimen in carved oak is in the Essex Institute in Salem. Carved chairs were owned only by persons of wealth or high standing, and were frequently covered with "redd lether" or "Rusha lether." Sometimes the leather was stamped and different rich fabrics were employed to cover the seats. "Turkey wrought" chairs are frequently mentioned. Velvet "Irish stitch," red cloth, and needlework covers are named. Green appeared to be, however, the favorite color.
Cane chairs appeared in the last quarter of the century. It is said that the use of cane was introduced into furniture with the marriage of Charles II. to Catharine of Braganza.
The bow-legged chair, often with claw and ball foot, came into use in the beginning of the eighteenth century. "Crowfoot" and "eaglesfoot" were named in inventories. These are copies of Dutch shapes.
Easy-chairs also appeared at that date, usually as part of the bedroom furniture, and were covered with the stuffs of which the bed-hangings and window-curtains were made, such as "China," "callico," "camblet," "harrateen."
The three-cornered chair, now known as an "As you like it" chair, appeared in the middle of the century under the names of triangle, round-about, and half-round chair.
The chairs known now as Chippendale may date back to the middle of the century; Windsor chairs, also known and manufactured in Philadelphia at that date, were not common in New England till a score of years later, when they were made and sold in vast numbers, being much more comfortable than the old bannister or slat-backed chairs then in common use.
Another piece of hall furniture deserves special mention. Dr. Lyon gives these names of cupboards found in New England: Cupboard, small cupboard, great cupboard, court cupboard, livery cupboard, side cupboard, hanging cupboard, sideboard cupboard, and cupboard with drawers. To this list might be added corner cupboard. The word court cupboard is found from the years 1647 to 1704. It was a high piece of furniture with an enclosed closet or drawers, originally intended to display plate, and was the highest-priced cupboard found. Upon it were set, in New England, both glass and plate. The livery cupboard, similar in its uses, seldom had an enclosed portion. "Turn pillar cuberds," painted and carved cupboards, were found. The item of cupboard in any inventory was usually accompanied by that of a cupboard cloth. This latter seemed to be the most elegant and luxurious article in the whole house. Cupboard cloths of holland, "laced," "pantado," "cambrick," "kalliko," "green wrought with silk fringe" all are named. Cushions also, "to set upon a cubberds head," are frequently named. They were made of damask, needlework, velvet or cloth. A corner cupboard was apparently a small affair; a japanned one is named. What we now call a corner cupboard was then known as a beaufet.
The hall was naturally on one side of the entry and opening into it. On the other side, in large houses, was the parlor; this room was sometimes used as a dining-room, sometimes as a state bedroom. It frequently held, in addition to furniture like that of the hall, a chest or chests of drawers to hold the family linen, and also that family idol the best bed.
Of the exact shape and height of the bedsteads used by the early colonists, I find no accurate nor very suggestive descriptions. The terms used in wills, inventories, and letters seem too vague and curt to give us a correct picture. What was the "half-headed bedstead" left with "Curtaince & Valance of Dornix" by will by Simon Eire in Boston in 1658? Or, to give a fuller description of a similar one in the sale of furniture of the King's Arms in Boston, in 1651, "half-headed Bedsted with Blew Pillars." I fancy they were bedsteads with moderately high headboards. It is easy enough to obtain full items of the bed itself and the bed-furniture, its coverings and hangings. We read of "ffether beds," flocke beds," "down bedds," "wool beds," and even "charf beds," the latter worth but three shillings apiece, all of importance enough to be named in wills and left with as much dignity of bequest as Shakespeare's famous "second-best bed." Even so influential a man as Thomas Dudley did not disdain to leave by specification to his daughter Pacy a "ffeather beed & boulster." In 1666 Nicholas Upsall, of Boston, left a "Bedstead fitted with a Rope Matt & Curtains to it." In March, 1687, Sewall wrote to London for "White Fustian Drawn enough for curtains, vallen counterpaine for a bed & half a duz chaires with four threeded green worsted to work it." In 1691 we find him writing for "Fringe for the Fustian bed & half a duz Chairs. Six yards and a half for the vallons, fifteen yards for 6 chairs two Inches deep; 12 yards half inch deep." This wrought fustian bed was certainly handsome.
By revolutionary times we read such items as these:
"Neet sette bed," "Very genteel red and white copperplate Cottonbed with Squab and Window Curtains Fring'd and made in the Newest Taste," "Sacken' & Corded Beds and a Pallat Bed," "Very Handsome Flower'd Crimson worsted damask carv'd and rais'd Teaster Bed & Curtains compleat," "A Four Post Bedstead of Mahogany on Casters with Carved Foot Posts, Callico Curtains to Ditto & Window Curtains to Match, and a Green Harrateen Cornish Bed." Harrateen, a strong, stiff woollen material, formed the most universal bed hanging. Trundle-beds or truckle-beds were used from the earliest days. So there was variety in plenty.
A form of bedstead called a slawbank was common enough in New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania until this century. They were more rarely found in Connecticut and Massachusetts, and as I do not know what they were called in New England, we will give them the Dutch name slawbank, from sloapbancke, a sleeping-bench. A slawbank was the prototype of our modern folding-bed. It was an oblong frame with a network of rope. This frame was fastened at one end to the wall with heavy hinges, and at night it was lowered to a horizontal position, and the unhinged end was supported on heavy wooden turned legs which fitted into sockets in the frame. When not in use the bed was hooked up against the wall, and doors like closet doors were closed over it, or curtains were drawn over it to conceal it. It was usually placed in the kitchen, and upon it slept goodman and goodwife. I know of several slawbanks still in old Narragansett, and one in a colonial house in Shrewsbury, Mass. A similar one may be seen at Deerfield Memorial Hall. It is hung around with blue serge curtains. I have seen no advertisements of slawbanks under any name in New England newspapers, unless the "bedstead in a painted press" in the Boston Gazette of November, 1750, may be one.
The bed furniture was of much importance in olden days, and the coverlet was frequently mentioned separately. Margaret Lake, of Ipswich, in 1662, so named a "Tapestry coverlet" worth £4. Susannah Compton had at about the same date a "Yearne Courlead." "Strieked couerlids" appear, and Adam Hunt, of Ipswich, had in 1671 "an embroadured couerled." "Happgings" coarse common coverlets are also named. In 1716, on September 24th, in the Boston News Letter, the word counterpane first appears. "India counterpins" often were advertised, and cheney, harrataen, and camlet coverlets or counterpanes were made to match the bed-hangings.
A pair of sheets was furnished in 1628 to each Massachusetts Bay colonist. This was a small allowance, but quite as full as the average possession of sheets by other colonists. Cotton sheets were not plentiful; flaxen or "fleishen" sheets, "canvas" sheets, "noggan" sheets, "towsheets," and "nimming" sheets (mentioned by Lechford in his notebook in 1640) were all of linen. Flannel sheets also were made, and may appear in inventories under the name of rugs, and thus partially explain the untidy absence, even among the possessions of wealthy citizens, of sheets. "Straken" sheets were of kersey. After spinning became fashionable, and flax was raised in more abundance, homespun sheets were made in large quantities, and owned by all respectable householders. "Twenty and one pair" was no unusual number to appear in an inventory.
There were plenty of "ffether boulsters," "shafe boulsters," "wool bolsters;" and John Walker had in 1659 a "Thurlinge Boulster," and each household had many pillows. The word bear was universally used to denote a pillow-case. It was spelled ber, beer, beir, beare and berr. In 1689 the value of a "pelerbeare" in an inventory was given at three shillings. In 1664 Susannah Compton had linen "pillow coates." Pillow covers also were named, and pillow clothes, but pillow bear was the term most commonly applied.
The following list of varieties of chests is given by Dr. Lyon: Joined chests, wainscot chests, board chests, spruce chests, oak chests, carved chests, chests with one or two drawers, cypress chests. Joined and wainscot chests were framed chests with panels, distinguished clearly from the board chests, made of plain boards. The latter were often called plain chests, the former panel chests. Carved chests were much rarer. William Bradford, of Plymouth, had one in 1657 worth £1. Dr. Lyon also gives as possibly being carved these items: "wrought chest," "ingraved," "settworke," and "inlayed chests." Chests were also painted, usually on the parts in relief on the carving, the colors being generally black and red. Chests with drawers were not rare in New England. A good specimen may be seen in the rooms of the Connecticut Historical Society. They were distinct in shape from what we now call chests of drawers. Nearly all the oak chests were quartered to show the grain, and" drop ornaments" and" egg ornaments "of various woods were applied. Cypress and cedar chests were used then, as now, to protect garments from moths. Governor Bellingham had one of the former worth £5. Ship chests or sea chests were, of course, plentiful enough. Cristowell Gallup had in 1655 a "sea chest and a great white chest." These sea chests being made of cheap materials, have seldom been preserved. There would appear to be in addition to the various chests already named, a hanging chest. In 1737 Sir William Pepperell wrote to England for "4 dozen pair Snipe bills to hang small chissts." This may possibly refer to snipe-bill hinges to be placed on chests.
It is safe to infer that almost every emigrant brought to America among his household belongings at least one chest. It was of use as a travelling trunk, a packing-box, and a piece of furniture. Many colonists had several. Jane Humphreys had and named in her will "my little chest, my great old chest, my great new chest, my lesser small box, my biggest small box" and she needed them all to hold her finery.
Chests also were made in New England. Pine was used in the backs and drawers of chests of New England make. English chests were wholly of oak.
In the Memorial Hall at Deerfield may be seen many fine specimens of old chests, forming, indeed, a complete series, showing the various shapes and ornamentations.
Another furnishing of the parlor was the scrutoire. Under the spellings scritoire, scredoar, screetor, scrittore, scriptore, scratoir, scritory, scrutore, escrutor, scriptoree, this useful piece of furniture appears constantly in the inventories of men of wealth in the colonies from the year 1669 till a century later. Judge Sewall tells of losing the key of his "scrittoir." The definition of the word in Phillips's "New World of Words," 1696, was "Scratoire, a sort of large Cabinet with several Boxes, and a place for Pen, Ink and Paper, the door of which opening downward and resting upon Frames that are to be drawn out and put back, serves for a Table to write on." This description would appear to identify the "scrutoire" with what we now call a writing-desk; and it was called interchangeably by these two names in wills. They were made with double bow fronts and box fronts, of oak, pine, mahogany, cherry; and some had cases of shelves for books on the top, forming what we now call a secretary our modern rendering of the word scrutoire. These book scrutoires frequently had glass doors.
When Judith Sewall was about to be married, in 1720, her father was much pleased with his prospective son-in-law and evidently determined to give the pair a truly elegant wedding outfit. The list of the house-furnishings which he ordered from England has been preserved, and may be quoted as showing part of the "setting-off" in furniture of a rich bride of the day. It reads thus:
"Curtains & Vallens for a Bed with Counterpane Head Cloth and Tester made of good yellow waterd worsted camlet with Triming well made and Bases if it be the Fashion. Send also of the Mme Camlet & Triming as may be enough to make Cushions for the Chamber Chairs.
"A good fine large Chintz Quilt well made.
"A true Looking Glass of Black Walnut Frame of the Newest Fashion if the Fashion be good, as good as can be bought for five or six pounds.
"A second Looking Glass as good as can be bought for four or five pounds, same kind of frame.
"A Duzen of good Black Walnut Chairs fine Cane with a Couch.
"A Duzen of Cane Chairs of a Different Figure and a great Chair for a Chamber; all black Walnut.
"One bell-metal Skillet of two Quarts, one ditto one Quart.
"One good large Warming Pan bottom and cover fit for an Iron handle.
"Four pair of strong Iron Dogs with Brass heads about 5 or 6 shillings a pair.
"A Brass Hearth for a Chamber with Dogs Shovel Tongs & Fender of the newest Fashion (the Fire is to ly upon Iron).
"A strong Brass Mortar That will hold about a Quart with a Pestle.
"Two pair of large Brass sliding Candlesticks about 4 shillings a Pair.
"Two pair of large Brass Candlesticks not sliding of the newest Fashion about 5 or 6 shillings a pair.
"Four Brass Snuffers with stands.
"Six small strong Brass Chafing dishes about 4 shillings apiece.
"One Brass basting Ladle; one larger Brass ladle.
"One pair of Chamber. Bellows with Brass Noses. One small hair Broom sutable to the Bellows.
"A One Duzen of large hard-mettal Pewter Plates new fashion, weighing about fourteen pounds.
"One Duzen hard-mettal Pewter Porringers.
"A Four Duzen of Small glass Salt Cellars of white glass Smooth not wrought, and without a foot.
"A Duzen of good Ivory-hafted Knives and Forks."
The floors of colonial houses were sometimes sanded, but were not carpeted, for a carpet in early days was not a floor covering, but the covering of a table or cupboard. In 1646 an inquiry was made into some losses on the wreck of the "Angel Gabriel." A servant took oath that Mr. John Coggeswell "had a Turkywork'd Carpet in old England which he commonly used to lay on his Parlour Table; and this Carpet was put aboard among my Maisters goods and came safe ashore to the best of my Remembrance." Another man testified that he did "frequentlie see a Turkey-work Carpet & heard them say it used to lay upon their Parlour Table." Dornix, arras, cloth, calico, and broadcloth carpets are named. Sewall tells of an "Irish stitch't hanging made a carpet of." Samuel Danforth gave, in 1661, a "Convenient Carpet for the table of the meeting house." In 1735, in the advertisement of the estate of Jonathan Barnard, "one handsome Large Carpet 9 Foot 0 inches by 6 foot 6 inches" was named. This was, I fancy, a floor covering. In the Boston Gazette of November, 1748, "two large Matts for floors" were advertised an exceptional instance in the use of the word mat. Large floor-carpets were advertised the following year, and in 1755 a "Variety of List Carpets wide & Narrow," and "Scotch Carpets for Stairs." In 1769 came "Persia Carpets 3 yards Wide." In 1772, in the Boston Evening Post, "A very Rich Wilton Carpet 18 ft by 13" was named. The following year, "Painted Canvass Floor Cloth" was named. This was doubtless the "Oyl Cloth for Floors and Tables" of the year 1762. Oilcloth had been known in England a century previously. What the "False Carpets" advertised on June 7, 1762, were I do not know.
The walls of the rooms were wainscoted and painted. Gurdon Saltonstall had on the walls of some of his state-rooms leathern hangings or tapestries. We find wealthy Sir William Pepperel sending to England, in 1737, the draught of a chamber he was furnishing, and writing, "Geet mock Tapestry or paint'd Canvass lay'd in Oyls for ye same and send me." In 1734 "Paper for Rooms," and a little later "Rolled Paper for Hanging of Rooms" were advertised in the Boston News Letter. "Statues on Paper" were soon sold, and "Architraves on Roll Paper" and "Landscape Paper." These old paper-hangings were of very heavy and strong materials, close-grained, firm and durable. The rooms of a few wealthy men were hung with heavy tapestries. The ceilings usually exposed to view the great summer-tree and cross rafters, sometimes rough-hewn and still showing the marks of the woodman's axe. But little decoration was seen overhead, even in the form of chandeliers; sometimes a candle beam bore a score of candles, or in some fine houses, such as the Storer mansion in Boston, great ornamental globes of glass hung from the summer-tree.
In the first log cabins oiled paper was placed in windows. We find more than one colonist writing to England for that semi-opaque window-setting. Soon glass windows, framed in lead, were sent from London and Liverpool and Bristol, ready for insertion in the walls of houses; and at an early day sheets of glass came to Winthrop. We find, by Sewall's time, that the houses of well-to-do folk all had "quarrels of glass" set in windows.
The flight of time in New England houses was marked without doors by sun-dials; within, by noon-marks, hour-glasses, and rarely by clepsydras, or water-clocks.
The first mention, in New England records, of a clock is in Lechford's note-book. He states that in 1628 Joseph Stratton had of his brother a clock and watch, and that Joseph acknowledged this, but refused to pay for them and was sued for payment. Hence Lawyer Lechford's interest in the articles and mention of them. In 1640 Henry Parks, of Hartford, left a clock by will to the church. In the inventory of Thomas Coteymore, made in Charleston, in 1645, his clock is apprized at £1. In 1657 there was a town-clock in Boston and a man appointed to take care of it. In 1677 E. Needham, of Lynn, left a "striking clock, a Larum that does not strike and a watch," valued at £5 this in an estate of £1,117 total. Judge Sewall wrote, in 1687, "Got home rather before 12 Both by my Clock and Dial."
Clocks must have become rather plentiful in the early part of the following century, for in 1707 this advertisement appeared in the Boston News Letter:
"To all gentlemen and others: There is lately arrived Boston by way of Pennsylvania a Clock maker. If any person or persons hath any occasions for new Clocks or to have Old Ones turn'd into Pendulums, or any other thing either in making or mending, they can go to the Sign of the Clock and Dial on the South Side of the Town House."
In 1712, in November, appeared in the News Letter the advertisement of a man who "performed all sorts of New Clocks and Watch works, viz: 30 hour Clocks, Week Clocks, Month Clocks, Spring Table Clocks, Chime Clocks, quarter Clocks, quarter Chime Clocks, Church Clocks, Terret Clocks;" and on April 16, 1716, this notice appeared: "Lately come from London. A Parcel of very Fine Clocks. They go a week and repeat the hour when Pull & In Japan Cases or Wall Nutt."
By this time, in the inventory or "enroulment" of the estate of any person of note, we always find a clock mentioned. Increase Mather left to his son Cotton "one Pendilum Clock." Soon appear Japann'd clocks and Pullup Clocks. In the New England Weekly Journal of October, 1732, the fourth prize in the Newport lottery was announced to be a clock worth £65. "A Handsome new Eight day Clock which shows the Moons Age, Strikes the Quarters on Six very Tunable Bells & is in a Good Japann'd Case in Imitation of Tortoise Shell & Gold."
This advertisement of Edmund Entwisle, in the Boston News Letter of November 18, 1742, proves, I think, that they had some very handsome clocks in those days:
"A Fine Clock. It goes 8 or 9 days with once winding up. And repeats the Hour it struck last when you pull it. The Dial is 13 inches on the Square & Arched with a SemiCircle on the Top round which is a strong Plate with this Motto (Time shews the Way of Lifes Decay) well engraved & silver'd, within the Motto Ring it chews from behind two Semispheres the Moons Increase & Decrease by two curious Painted Faces ornamented with Golden Stars between on a Blue Ground, and a white Circle on the Outside divided into Days figured at every Third, in which Divisions is shewn the Age by fix't Index from the Top, as they pass by the great Circle is divided into three Concentrick Collums on the outmost of which it chews the Minute of each Hour and the Middlemost the Hours & c. the innermost is divided into 31 equal parts figur'd at every other on which is shewn the Day of the Month by a Hand from the Dial Plate as the Hour & Minute is, it also shews the Seconds as common & is ornamented with curious Engravings in a Most Fashionable Manner. The case is made of very Good Mohogony with Quarter Collums in the Body, broke in the Surface with Raised Pannels with Quarter Rounds burs Bands & Strings. The head is ornamented with Gilded Capitalls Bases & Frise with New fashion'd Balls compos'd of Mohogony with Gilt Leaves & Flowers."
I do not quite understand this description, and I know I could never have told the correct time by this clock, but surely it must have been very elegant and costly.
The earliest and most natural, as well as most plentiful, illuminating medium for the colonists was found in pine-knots. Wood says:
"Out of these Pines is gotten the Candlewood that is so much spoke of which may serve as a shift among poore folks but I cannot commend it for Singular good because it is something sluttish dropping a pitchy kind of substance where it stands."
Higginson wrote in 1630, "Though New England has no tallow to make candles of yet by abundance of fish thereof it can afford oil for lamps."
Though lamps and "lamp yearn," or wicks, appear in many an early invoice, I cannot think that they were extensively used. Betty lamps were the earliest form. They were a shallow receptacle, usually of pewter, iron, or brass, circular or oval in shape, and occasionally triangular, and about two or three inches in diameter, with a projecting nose an inch or two long. When in use they were filled with tallow or grease, and a wick or piece of twisted rag was placed so that the lighted end could hang on the nose. Specimens can be seen at Deerfield Memorial Hall. I have one with a hook and chain by which to hang it up, and a handled hook attached with which to clean out the grease. These lamps were sometimes called "brown-bettys," or "kials," or "cruiseys." A phoebe lamp resembled a betty lamp, but had a shallow cup underneath to catch the dripping grease.
Soon candles were made by being run in moulds, or by a tedious process of dipping. The fragrant bayberry furnished a pale green wax, which Robert Beverly thus described in 1705:
"A pale brittle was of a curious green color, which by refining becomes almost transparent. Of this they make candles which are never greasy to the touch, nor melt with lying in the hottest weather; neither does the snuff of these ever offend the smell, like that of a tallow candle; but, instead of being disagreeable, if an accident puts a candle out, it yields a pleasant fragrancy to all that are in the room; insomuch that nice people often put them out on purpose to have the incense of the expiring snuff."
The Abbé Robin and other travellers gave similar testimony. Bayberry wax was a standard farm production wherever bayberries grew, and was advertised in New England papers until this century. I entered within a year a single-storied house a few miles from Plymouth Rock, where an aged descendant of the Pilgrims earns her scanty spending-money by making "bayberry taller," and bought a cake and candles of the wax, made in precisely the method of her ancestors; and I too can add my evidence as to the pure, spicy perfume of this New England incense.
The growth of the whaling trade, and consequent use of spermaceti, of course increased the facilities for, and the possibilities of, house illumination. In 1686 Governor Andros petitioned for a commission for a voyage after "Sperma-Coeti Whales," but not till the middle of the following century did spermaceti become of common enough use to bring forth such notices as this, in the Boston Independent Advertiser of January, 1749:
"Sperma-Ceti Candles, exceeding all others for Beauty Sweetness of Scent when Extinguished. Duration being more than Double with Tallow Candles of Equal Size. Dimensions of Flame near 4 Times more. Emitting a Soft easy Expanding Light, bringing the object close to the Sight, rather than causing the Eye to trace after them, as all Tallow Candles do, from a Constant Dimnes which they produce. One of these Candles serves the use and purpose of 3 Tallow Candles, and upon the Whole are much pleasanter and cheaper."
These candles were placed in candle-beams rude chandeliers of crossed sticks of wood or strips of metal with sockets; in sliding stands, in sconces, which were also called prongs or candle-arms. The latter appeared in the inventories of all genteel folk, and decorated the walls of all genteel parlors.
Candlesticks and snuffers were found in every house; the latter were called by various names, the word snit or suite being the most curious. It is from the old English snyten, to blow, and was originally a verb to suite the candle, or put it out. In the inventory of property of John Gager, of Norwich, in 1703, appears "One Snit."
Snuffer-boats or slices were snuffer-trays. Another curious illuminating appurtenance was called a save-all or candle-wedge. It was a little frame of rings or cups with pins, by which our frugal ancestors held up the last dying bit of burning candle. They were sometimes of pewter with iron pins, sometimes wholly of brass or iron. They have nearly all disappeared since new and more extravagant methods of illumination prevail.
The argand lamps of Jefferson's invention and the various illuminating and heating contrivances of Count Bamford must have been welcome to the colonists.
The discomfort of a colonial house in winter-time has been ably set forth by Charles Francis Adams in his "Three Episodes of Massachusetts History." Down the great chimneys blew the icy blasts so fiercely that Cotton Mather noted on a January Sabbath, in 1697, as he shivered before "a great Fire, that the Juices forced out at the end of short billets of wood by the heat of the flame on which they were laid, yett froze into Ice on their coming out." Judge Sewall wrote, twenty years later, "An Extraordinary Cold Storm of Wind and Snow. Bread was frozen at Lords Table. . . . Though 'twas so Cold yet John Tackerman was baptized. At six oclock my ink freezes so that I can hardly write by a good fire in my Wives Chamber" and the pious man adds (we hope with truth) "Yet was very Comfortable at Meeting." Cotton Mather tells, in his pompous fashion, of a cold winter's day four years later. "Tis Dreadful cold, my ink glass in my standish is froze and splitt in my very stove. My ink in my pen suffers a congelation." If sitting-rooms were such refrigerators, we cannot wonder that the chilled colonists wished to sleep in beds close curtained with heavy woollen stuffs, or in slaw-bank beds by the kitchen fire.
The settlers builded as well as they knew to keep their houses warm; and while the vast and virgin forests supplied abundant and accessible wood for fuel, Governor Eaton's nineteen great fireplaces and Parson Davenport's thirteen, could be well filled; but by 1744 Franklin could write of these big chimneys as the "fireplace of our fathers;" for the forests had all disappeared in the vicinity of the towns, and the chimneys had shrunk in size. Badly did the early settlers need warmer houses, for, as all antiquarian students have noted, in olden days the cold was more piercing, began to nip and pinch earlier in November, and lingered further into spring; winter rushed upon the settlers with heavier blasts and fiercer storms than we now have to endure. And, above all, they felt with sadder force "the dreary monotony of a New England winter, which leaves so large a blank, so melancholy a death-spot, in lives so brief that they ought to be all summertime." Even John Adams in his day so dreaded the tedious bitter New England winter that he longed to hibernate like a dormouse from autumn to spring.
As the forests disappeared, sea-coal was brought over in small quantities, and stoves appeared for town use. By 1695 and 1700 we find Cotton Mather and Judge Sewall speaking of stoves and stove-rooms, and of chambers warmed by stoves. Ere that one John Clark had patented an invention for "saving and warming rooms," but we know nothing definite of its shape.
Dutch stoves and china stoves were the first to be advertised in New England papers; then "Philadelphia Fire Stoves" what we now term Franklin grates. Wood was burned in these gates. We find clergymen, until after Revolutionary times, having sixty or eighty cords of hardwood given to them annually by the parish.
Around the great glowing fireplace in an old New England kitchen centred all of homeliness and comfort that could be found in a New England home. The very aspect of the domestic hearth was picturesque, and must have had a beneficent influence. In earlier days the great lug-pole, or, as it was called in England, the back-bar, stretched from ledge to ledge, or lug to lug, high up the yawning chimney, and held a motley collection of pot-hooks and trammels, of gib-crokes, twicrokes, and hakes, which in turn suspended at various heights over the fire, pots, and kettles and other cooking utensils. In the hearth-corners were displayed skillets and trivets, peels and slices, and on either side were chimney-seats and settles. Above on the clavel-piece were festooned strings of dried apples, pumpkins, and peppers.
The lug-pole, though made of green wood, sometimes became brittle or charred by too long use over the fire and careless neglect of replacement, and broke under its weighty burden of food and metal; hence accidents became so frequent, to the detriment of precious cooking utensils, and even to the destruction of human safety and life, that a Yankee invention of an iron crane brought convenience and simplicity, and added a new grace to the kitchen hearth.
The andirons added to the fireplace their homely charm. Fire-dogs appear in the earliest inventories under many names of various spelling, and were of many metals copper, steel, iron, and brass. Sometimes a fireplace had three sets of andirons of different sizes, to hold logs at different heights. Cob irons had hooks to hold a spit and dripping-pan. Sometimes the "Handirons" also had brackets. Creepers were low irons placed between the great fire-dogs. They are mentioned in many early wills and lists of possessions among items of fireplace furnishings, as, for instance, the list of Captain Tyng's furniture, made in Boston in 1653. The andirons were sometimes very elaborate, with claw feet, or cast in the figure of a negro, a soldier, or a dog.
In the Deerfield Memorial Hall there lives in perfection of detail one of these old fireplaces a delight to the soul of the antiquary. Every homely utensil and piece of furniture, every domestic convenience and inconvenience, every home-made makeshift, every cumbrous and clumsy contrivance of the old-time kitchen here may be found, and they show to us, as in a living photograph, the home life of those olden days.