Joseph B. (Joseph Barlow) Felt.

The customs of New England online

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Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1853, by


In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts.



Various and multiplied are the gifts which have come
down from the Father of lights, as our earthly portion.
Among these blessings, Curiosity, as the inlet of useful
knowledge, entertainment, and edification, holds no low, no
trivial rank. Such a faculty is privileged to open its percep-
tion on the wonders of the Universe, as well as on the inven-
tions, discoveries, and productions of human genius. Particu-
larly is it favored with looking back on the course of time,
and holding communion with objects unseen by that view
which is only directed to scenes and concerns of the passing

Curiosity, thus employed, has the abundant materials of
History gathering in its varied prospect, the more minutely
it surveys and plies itself to the task of satisfying its
increased and ardent desires. So indulged and so commend-
ably occupied, it meets with topics which invariably hold its
high estimation and share in its favorable attention, though
they are familiar and at home with it, as friends of long
intercourse and acquaintance. There are other subjects,
which, from not being often within the circle of its observa-
tion, nor without some degree of merit in themselves, are far

A 1


from experiencing its rejection, but are invited to approach
its presence and participate in its friendship.

A reason why Curiosity thus notices things of greater and
less importance is, that it may have a symmetry in its impres-
sions of human customs, actions, and character. It eyes the
forest in some paradisiacal portion of the earth, and singles
out for its admiring gaze a fair-proportioned tree, crowned
with abundance of flowers, even more beautiful and charm-
ing than those of the magnolia, in our own adopted Floridas.
But were it to notice nothing else, except these ornaments of
the landscape, and to throw out from the means of its grati-
fication the roots, trunk, limbs, and leaves, on which they
depend for their subsistence and attraction, it would violate
the laws of correct taste, indelibly and divinely inscribed on
every well-trained and riglitly-ordered mind. So would it be
at fault, were it to seize only on the most prominent features
of the portraiture, which tlie pencil of truth has drawn to
represent men of other years, and, at the same time, pass
over the rest of the graphic sketch as if altogether unv\"orthy
of a single glance. Its true province is to collect the small
as well as the great ; to notice the frieze, the cornice, the
architrave, and base, as well as the shaft of ancient ages,
that it may know the correct proportions of Agrippa's

Thus faithful to its trust. Curiosity furnishes us with the
customs of our ancestors as a topic on which we may look
and not be altogether unrewarded for our attention. In the
accomplishment of this enterprise, we have not always a
compass, nor a cloudless polar star, for our guide. Still we
may venture in the hope that we may fare better than our

Had the long standing laws of China, which extend to the
whole social system of its immense population, been the


rule of our land, wc should only have to behold the present
and know the past. But more compliant with the fancy of
change, which has always prevailed where the air of freedom
has been breathed, than with any permanent edicts, the for-
mer and latter inhabitants of our communities have imitated
their mother country in many of her various alterations ia
customs, and have thereby enlarged the difficulty of our
becoming thoroughly acquainted with the usages of our
primitive settlers.

We are told that Apelles, on seeing the picture of a
Venus magnificently attired, said to the artist, " Friend,
though thou hast not been able to make her fair, thou hast
certainly made her ^«e." The writer is not ambitious to
obtain such a compliment. Though what he has to say
may not allow him scope to be fair, yet he will endeavor to
have it neither tawdry nor repulsive.




These, however occasionally mentioned and partially described, have never,
to the knowledge of the writer, been fully exhibited together in our country.
The attempt to do this is neither so easy nor so satisfactory, in point of cor-
rectness, as if it had been performed by some master hand. But the execution
of it, though deficient as an original, unaided by attractive examples, may
have its uses, and occupy a comparatively vacant niche in the temple of





Andirons, Arras, Battledoors and ShuttlGcoclcs, Eoakers, Beds, Bellows, Book-
cases, Bottles, Bowls, Brass Ware, Bread Trough or Tray, Broom, Brushes,
Bureau, Butter Boats, Cabinets, Cages, Candlesticks, Canister, Cans, Cards,
Carpets, Case of Drawers, Castor, Chafing Dish, Chairs, Cheese Press,
Churn, Chest of Drawers, China Ware, Clocks, Coffee Mil and Coffee
Pot, Couches, Cradle, Cream Pot.

Andirons. — This word, till the abounding of grates, stoves,
and furnaces, was among the familiar talk of household con-
cerns, from the first settlement of New England. Johnson
says that Skinner supposed it to be corrupted from hand
irons. William Howitt in detailing the Sidney estate, men-
tions brand irons. Some of the inventories of goods and
chattels, left by our primitive colonists, have end irons, by
which they appear to have meant andirons. Their usus
loquendi, in this respect, seems to have been well founded.
The articles in view were used to hold sticks of wood at
their ends, so that they might burn more freely. The larger
kind, fitted with needed appurtenances, performed the office
of holding the spit, while turned for the roasting of meats.

Strutt, writing in 1775, says that cob irons were the same
as andirons, though the former, often named among the fur-
niture of our ancient families, have been supposed to be for
burning their corn cobs, and not wood. But if, as some lex-
icographers state, cob is derived from the Saxon cop, (head,) it
may be properly applied to andirons which had heads of
various shapes.

It is very likely, that, in some form or other, such articles,
so much needed in cold climates, have been long used by
various nations. A schedule of furniture in the bed cham-


ber of Henry VIII., at Hampton Court, contains them.
They arc signified in the Cymbeline of Shakspeare, —

"two -winking Cupids
Of silver, each on one foot standing, nicely
Depending on their brands."

As described in an early volume of the Gentleman's Maga-
zine, the larger-sized ones were accompanied with others of
less length, called creepers, and placed in nearer to the fuel,
so that it might be kept from falling.

Andirons were in all our households, except a few of
abject poverty, caused by intemperance, which sells off every
thing of comfort to indulge its insatiable desire. They were
of iron, brass, and copper, and of diversified forms. Of the
first metallic substance were many grave-looking dogs of
different physiognomies, which represented the whole canine
race. A pair of them, seen, and handled, and communea
with often in imagination, by me in days of childhood, are
as distinctly before the vision of my mind as any object
now is before my eyes.

Of the furniture wdiich was left by Governor Endicott, a
pair of brass andirons were named in 1659. It was currently
reported, that gold ones had been brought to Boston after
the decapitation of Louis XVI., and that they belonged to
the goods of that unhappy monarch. But of whatever
material and mould such things were, there was much com-
fortable feeling associated w^ith them, in the winter, when,
escaping from the out-door attacks of Jack Frost, we could
hasten and put our almost frozen hands on their warm tops.
It was a general impression, that the brightness of those
which could be polished, was a sign of the neatness which
prevailed in the house.

Arms. — Though, in our day, it may seem very singular to
give arms a place among household appurtenances, still they
were so in former years, from pressing necessity. During
the first half century of New England, matchcocks, snap-
hances, swords, pikes, and halberts, with armor, consisting of
the corselet, breast, back, culet, gorget, and tasses, had their
fixed and well-known places in almost every well-ordered


family. Even the inventories of eminent ministers con-
tained some of the preceding weapons. The occasion of
this defensive provision was, as is well known, the frequent
fear and alarm lest unfriendly Indians of the Pequods, Poka-
nokets, Narragansetts, Mohawks, and Tanrentines might
stealthily attack the English habitations, and put their in-
mates to death, or carry them into horrible captivity. So
great was the occasion for this precaution, that the colonists
felt that the neglect of it was as if inviting desolation, and the
adoption of it as a dutiful means of self-preservation. While
thus imperiled without, they applied the means of safety,
looked above for spiritual strength, and stood faithfully in
their lot.

Battledoors and SJmttlecocks. — These are chiefly used by
females for amusement and healthy exercise. They directly
answer such desirable purposes, when handled by those who
rise from sedentary employment for a change of position and
the easement of their thoughts, eyes, and limbs. The time
so given is more than gained by increased power to resume
close attention and performance of the task with greater
ability. They are pertinent to the in-door accommodations
with which they are connected. Locke, the philosopher,
approved them. Minds less profound and cultivated than
his can easily perceive their worth.

Beakers. — These were so called, originally, because, as
drinking cups or glasses, they each had a spout like a bird's
beak. They have been always used in our country more or
less. While uttering his poetic fancies, Pope remarked, —

" With dulcet beverage this the beaker crowned,
Fair in the midst, with gilded cups around."

With the beak, and of various substances, they have been
mostly employed, for a long period, by apothecaries in decant-
ing off medical liquids. Till within a half century, our pop-
ulation applied the term beaker to large and small round
glasses, which more than a century since, began to be known
by the word tumbler. This is a significant expression, when
the article it means is emptied of intoxicating contents, and



these cause the partaker to reel and fall to the ground.
Strange that so many of our race thus exhibit themselves as
if bereft of reason and conscience.

Beds. — Anciently skins of beasts were worn by day, and
served then* owners to sleep on by night. This was so
among the Greeks, Romans, Celtic nations, and Britons, with
the exception of higher classes, who were able to obtain jiref-
crable articles for apparel and sleep. Pliny states that the
gentry of his countrymen had feather beds, and inns of his
day had beds filled with down, obtained from reeds. The
Scriptures speak of such accommodations. Jacob said to
his son Joseph, " I will lie with my fathers, and thou shalt
carry me out of Egypt, and bury me in their burying-place.
And he said, I will do as thou hast said. And Israel bowed
himself on the bed's head."

As civilized nations had the beasts of their forests dimin-
ished, and theii- harvests of cultivated territory increased, skins
were exchanged for straw besides rushes and heath. After
the Romans invaded Britain, such an alteration took place
there. We are informed that straw was used for the beds of
the English kings till the close of the thirteenth century.
By the statute of Henry YII., feathers for such a purpose
were required to be of the pulled, and not scalded sort, and
down to be fine, and without mixture. This was ordered on
the supposition that the non-observance of it was unfavora-
ble to health. At the same time, the much larger portion of
the people there, and in the rest of Europe, retained their
straw and other cheap materials for their lodgings.

Of course, as the beds were of articles which required cov-
ering, so that they might be kept together and conveniently
answer their purpose, bedsteads came into demand. We
read in Deuteronomy that the giant Og, king of Bashan, had
an iron one nine cubits long and four wide. Of such a sub-
stance, as is well known, they have been considerably used
among us and abroad for the last ten years. There is one
of large polished oak in Leicester, England, accompanied
with striking reminiscences. It belonged to Richard III.
He had it brought to the Blue Boar Inn of that city the night


before he was slain at the battle of Bosworth, 1485. Being
quite large, it was handed down from one occupant to
another of the public house for one hundred years, when it
fell to the possession of a widow. Her chambermaid, one
day, struck her broom against the bottom of it, and down
fell large gold coins. The other parts Avere examined, and
found to be hollow, and filled with a large amount of similar
treasure. The person thus suddenly enriched became an
object of murderous purposes. Her hostler prevailed on a
female servant of hers to join with him in the conspiracy.
They accomplished their horrible plan, but justice soon
brought them to suffer death for their crime.

Bedding, steads, and curtahis have undergone multiplied
changes. Our ancestors brought them, in their several vari-
eties, to these shores. They were no strangers to the names
of down, feathers, flock, settee, standing, tent, and truckle
beds. Of the goods transported for some of our planters,
in 1629, were the following : " Fifty mats to lie under fifty
beds on board ship, fifty rugs, fifty pair of blankets of Welsh
cotton, one hundred pair of sheets, fifty bedticks and bol-
sters, with wool to put in them, and Scotch ticking."

The inventories of our deceased fathers, for the first cen-
tury, often mentioned bed curtains and valance. E/clative to
the last word. Skinner says that the fashion of using the
things denoted by it came from Valencia. These were
" fringes of drapery, hanging round the tester and stead."
Among the furniture of Rev. Nathaniel Rogers, of Ipswich,
1655, was a " canopy" bed. Other early accounts mention
bed sacks, pillows, pillow-bears or pillow-cases, coverlets.
One of the last (1660) was of tapestry. Counterpanes were
known to our first inhabitants.

For five years past, springs have been increasingly em-
ployed to render sleep more comfortable. Fastened under a
cloth cover, on strips of board attached to the stead to sus-
tain mattresses, or feather or otlier beds, they give these a
grateful elasticity, especially so to Aveary patients. Some
persons object to them, lest their metallic substance may
attract lightning. Though labor will enable the healthy and


industrious to repose, even without any appliance of art,
still these are fitted to render their slumbers more balmy and
invigorating. This is not intended to imply that they will
have such opiate power, that there wiU be need of the invo-
cation, —

♦♦ Sound, music ; come, my queen, take hand with mc,
And rock the ground whereon these sleepers be."

Bellows. — As an invention much needed among the hu-
man family, they Avere probably brought into use at an early
period of the world. Strabo quotes an old historian as relat-
ing that Anacharsis, the Scythian philosopher, 600 B. C,
was the originator of them. But they are likely to have
existed before his day. Virgil refers to them in one of his
Georgics. The prophet Jeremiah has the passage, " The
bellows are burned, the lead is consumed of the fire."

Bellows were well known in our fatherland. John Smith?
the navigator, mentions them, 1624, among the outfits of a
vessel for our coast. They were brought to New England
by the emigrants, and afterwards manufactured here. They
appear in their inventories of property, when death had en-
tered the family and taken away its head. Since the allow-
ance of organs in our churches, bellows have had an essen-
tial part in aiding them to discourse in sweet sounds, as well
as to ignite the fuel for the preparation of food and of vari-
ous substances for pm-poses of art. Their vocation has
diminished as fire stoves and furnaces have multiplied and
been kindled by their own blowers.

Of costly wood and leather, with brass nails and nose,

varnished and burnished, they were once seen in every front

room, suspended on one side, and a brush on the other, of the

fireplace. But that sight has passed almost away, probably

never to be revived, though, in other respects, the bellows will

last as long as the elements will afibrd them air to operate.

Spenser, in his Fairy Queen, has the lines, —

•' One, -with great bellows, gathered filling air,
And with forced wind the fuel did inflame."

Bookcases. — These, of course, were unknown before the
invention of printing, in the fifteenth century. From this


period, as books issued from the press and multiplied, so
there was a call for such articles to hold them. The volumes
owned by our first inhabitants were of a useful, religious
character. None of an immoral tendency were allowed by
the authorities of New England before the usurpation of
1686. Of course there was no pressing need of many book-
cases. We meet with these mentioned here, 1714, as if they
were not strangers to the community. We could w^ish that
those which abound in our day could bear as thorough an
expurgation of their contents. An abundance of books, and
much time consumed in reading them, do not always war-
rant an abundance of purity and knowledge.

Bottles. — This word is derived from botellus, of unclassic
Latin, which denotes a small vessel of wine, and is the
diminutive of botta, that signifies a cask of such liquor. As
made of glass, they were known to the Romans prior to 79
A. D., when Pompeii was destroyed, because they have been
of late years dug from the ruins of that city. Some of
them, mentioned in the Old Testament, consisted of beasts'
skins. David, the Psalmist, refen'ed to them in the passage,
" I am become like a bottle in the smoke," or as the bottle in
the tent of the Arab, blackened with smoke. Such have
remained common among the nomadic tribes of the East.

Bottles of glass were manufactured in England about
1558. They were brought over by the planters of our soil.
They were made in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1639. In our
earliest inventories of estates, we find one leather and sev-
eral pewter bottles. But those of glass, dark and light col-
ored, of diversified form and for difierent purposes, have
abounded as our population have increased. Elegant ones,
contained in cases, and replenished with choice spirits, were
far more numerous before the custom for each family to invite
all their visitors to partake of such liquids was dispensed with,
and thus a mountain of temptation to inebriety was moved
out of the way. Bacon humorously observed, " Many have
a manner, after other men's speech, to shake their heads. A
great officer would say, it was as men shake a bottle, to see
if there was any wit in their heads or no ? "



Boivls. — The singular of this word, as Junius informs us,
is from the Welsh buelin, which signifies any thing made of
horn, as drinking cups anciently were. They were divinely
required to be made of gold, by order of Moses, for the table,
in connection with the tabernacle. Though our ancestors
left none of such precious metal to their heirs, still a few of
them did leave those of silver and china. Such vessels of
" red and white " ware, and also of wood, have always been
common in our families. They were generally employed to
hold beer, for drinking, before cider became plenty. Of the
proper size, they were much more used for broth and por-
ridge, morning and evening, before the substitution of coffee
and tea, than they have been since. So employed, however
suggesting associations of strict economy, they were instru-
mental in imparting refreshment and health, while the " flow-
ing bowl " of intemperance, though garnished with the
applause of poets and orators, has always destroyed its
infatuated votaries.

Brass Ware. — As made of copper and zinc, it was often
written latten in the schedules of property left by our colo-
nists of the first half century. It was well known to the
Israelites while in the wilderness.

The articles made of it, and common among our good
livers, were the ladle, skimmer, spoon, colander, candlestick,
skillet, and kettle. One of our manufacturers who turned
out such things, and also part of them in pewter, for the
accommodation of the public, was Henry Shrimpton, of
Boston, who died in 1666. Neat housewives — and those of
New England were mostly so — took much pleasure in having
such a portion of their furniture well burnished, when not in
immediate use. In this way, their good, and not their " evil
manners," partly lived " in brass."

Bread Trough, or Tray. — This, commonly made of pine
board, seems to have a right to rank itself among the earli-
est of human inventions. Pharaoh was divinely cautioned,
that if he refused to let Israel go, frogs should throng his
" kneading troughs." Long after the first settlement of New
England did most families, in large as well as small towns,


make up their rye and Indian bread in such articles. But in
modern times it has not been so much so. Bakeries have
been more depended upon. It was formerly among the
requisitions for making a good housewife, that she should be
able and ready to make good bread. But times change, and
we change with them.

Brooms. — As necessary to clean away dirt, the broom is
likely to have had a long standing among domestic furniture.
It is mentioned under the name of besom by the prophet
Isaiah. It was well known by the mothers of England, and
by their daughters, who came to the new world. The
manner and measure of its use about the family premises are
one of the signs which indicate how much neatness has an
influence there. That the sign may be favorable, more than
the partial means of it, as implied in the following lines,
written in Queen Elizabeth's time, must be used : —

"I am sent with brooin before,
To sweep the dust behind the door."

Brushes. — These, for the multiplied uses to which they
have been applied, go far back in the track of antiquity.
They were the brusca of the Romans. As employed in
sweeping and in cleaning clothes and other things, and in
various arts, they were well known in our fatherland.
Thence they and the mode of making them were brought to
our country. They have long constituted, among our popu-
lation, a convenient proportion of supplies for housekeeping.
In 1718, William Brind, brushmaker from London, offers all
sort of brushes and '• hair brooms " at wholesale and retail,
in Boston. Bacon observes, in allusion to one of these handy
operators, " Sir Henry Wotton used to say that critics were
like brushers of noblemen's cloaths."

Bureau. — This was defined, by Johnson, " a chest of
drawers with a writing board." Swift spoke of it, in the
plural, thus : —

" For not the desk with silver nails,

Nor bureaus of expense,
Not standish well japanned, avails

To writiiig of good sense."


As bureaus have appeared in our habitations, they have not
been provided with writing apparatus. They had flat tops
and swelled fronts. We see them advertised in Boston,
1750, as no novel things. Though they vary in name from
the desk and other similar articles, they do not in use.

Butter Boat. — This, as numbered among the varieties of
earthen ware, serves to hold melted butter, gravy, and pud-
ding sauce, as boats do to carry goods. We find it men-
tioned, 1770, as having previously been known to good livers.
Whether employed as the means of luxurious or temperate
living, it is likely to hold its place on every plentiful board.

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Online LibraryJoseph B. (Joseph Barlow) FeltThe customs of New England → online text (page 1 of 18)