Thursday, September 15, 2016

Fireplaces & Life on the Frontier Part 3

This excerpt comes from Recollections of the Pioneers of Lee County, Ill. ©1893 What makes this excerpt a bit different than the two previous posts is the description of how they made their fireplace.

The fireplace warmed the room, and there the cooking wasdone; cooking utensils were very scarce, the bread was baked in iron kettles having iron covers, the kettle being placed in one side of the fireplace and completely covered with live coals and hot ashes, potatoes were also roasted in the ashes.

Gourds were used for baskets, basins, cups, dippers, soap dishes, etc. liollow trees cut in suitable lengths were used for well curbs, bee hives, and for storing the vegetables and grain. Large trees were hollowed out into troughs and placed under the eaves to catch the rain water, in sugar making to hold the sap; small troughs were used to knead the bread in, and some of the babies slept in cradles made of troughs. Father made butter bowl, ladle, rolling pin, brooms and other articles of wood, for use in the house. All this was done by hand, and with rude implements; he also mended his harness, and was cobbler for his own family, keeping their shoes in repair. Some families had no timepiece, they told the time during the day by the sun—had a noon mark in a door or window— at night by the position of the stars in the Great Dipper in the north. For want of looking glasses, when they wished to see how their hair was dressed, they looked in the well or watertrough. Some of the early settlers were very destitute—the children having but one dress apiece, made of unbleached muslin, colored with butternut bark—the mother washed and ironed their clothing while they were in bed.

Father's first house was one story and had but the one room, with fireplace in one end, door in the other, windows in opposite sides of the room. The windows were small, having but one sash each, containing six panes of glass. The fireplace was made of such rocks as they could pick up, filled in with mortar made of clay; the chimney was built from the ground up, on the outside of the house, and with sticks filled in and plastered over with mortar. The door was made of such boards as they could split from the trees, and was hung on wooden hinges, and had wooden latches—the hinges and latches were made with the pocket knife. The latch had at one end a string (I presume of buckskin) attached to it, the other end passed through a hole in the door over the latch—when they wished to secure their house at night they pulled in the latchstring.

Father had a compass and when he built his house he placed it with the points of the compass, then at noon ihe sun shone straight in the door or window. In that way they obtained the "noon mark." Mother had several marks in the first house, to mark the different hours.

They made their own brooms by taking straight young hickory trees, perhaps three inches through, peeling off the bark, then with their pocket knives they commenced on the end ol the stick they intended for the brush part, and peeled the stick in narrow strips or splints about one- sixteenth of an Inch thick, and fifteen to eighteeti inches long. The heart of the stick would not peel and that was cut off, leaving a stick about three Inches long in the center of these splints. The splints being dropped back over this stick, then they commenced on the handle end and stripped splints toward those already made, and long enough to cover them, when the stick was stripped small enough for the handle, the splints were all tied together around the stick left in the center of the splints first stripped, the remainder of the handle was then stripped to complete the handle.

They guarded their fire carefully, for they had no matches, and if their fire went out they had tojkindle with flint and steel, or go to a neighbor and borrow flre.

Mother was better fitted for pioneer life than some of the settlers. She knew all about spinning, weaving, knitting, coloring, making sugar, butter, candles and soap, and the use of a fireplace for cooking, all of which were new to some of them. She spun, colored, wove, cut and made our woolen clothing and blankets, also her own linen for house use and garments for the family, and spun her linen thread for sewing. She often spoke of the hardships of others, but very seldom of her own.

Fireplaces & Life on the Frontier Part 1
Fireplaces & Life on the Frontier Part 2

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