Joseph B. (Joseph Barlow) Felt.

The customs of New England online

. (page 2 of 18)
Online LibraryJoseph B. (Joseph Barlow) FeltThe customs of New England → online text (page 2 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Cabinets. — These were anciently made of oak wood.
Some of them had their fronts curiously wrought and inlaid
with ebony and other costly material. The upper portion
of them was much like that of the escritoire, without the
fall of the latter. It had drawers on the right and left, with
two doors to secure them, for the deposit of fancy and valu-
able articles, as well as of important papers. The lower
portion had drawers for the best clothes and other precious
possessions. They were referred to by Ben Jonson, —

" Who seeks a soul in such a body set
Might love the treasure for the cabinet."

They have given their name to the makers of them, who are
called cabinet makers.

One of them, left by Rev. Nathaniel Rogers, of Ipswich,
and scheduled 1655, was located in his hall chamber. The
specimens we meet with, as surviving curiosities, continued
fashionable for over a century after the settlement of
our country. Then original proprietors have long since
known from experience that, however they highly prized what
they carefully placed in such repositories, it was infinitely
better to lay up treasure where it was subject to no earthly

Cag-es. — These were no strangers in ancient times. Jere-
miah observes, " As a cage is full of birds, so are their houses
full of deceit." It is not probable that among the early
population here, who went literally for mercy to animals as


well as to their own species, the keeping of birds confined
was tolerated. But when colonial constitutions were broken
down, and Puritan restrictions were nullified, the manners
were changed. In 1742, wc see hempseed for birds adver-
tised. This, of course, implies that it had become fashion-
able, to some extent, for cages to make a part of household
appendages. This inclination has much increased, though
the great majority, who love to hear the woody songsters
when free, but are pained to see them confined, have not
followed the example. Waller remarks, —

«< Though slaves, like birds that sing not in a cage,
They lost their genius and poetic rage."

Candlesticks. — These, as evident from the radical con-
struction of the word, are so called from their purpose to
hold candles of tallow or wax. They have been long
known in the world.

The most noted of them, which has come to our notice, is
the golden one which Moses was divinely commanded to
have made with seven branches. We remember that its
location was in the antechamber of the sanctuary, that
illumined the altar of perfume and the tabernacle of show
bread. The value of it, exclusive of workmanship, as com-
puted by Cumberland, was five thousand and seventy-six
pounds. After the destruction of the last temple, Vespasian
had the candlestick deposited in the Temple of Peace, erect-
ed by his order. A representation of it remains on the
arch, at the foot of Mount Palatine, on which his triumph
was delineated.

Though our fathers, who settled this soil, were deeply in-
terested in so rich a bearer of light, and as representing the
seven churches in the Revelation of John, yet they brought
with them no such treasure. Their candlesticks were of
iron, pewter, brass, and silver. One of the last we find in a
schedule of 1660. Such appendages of domestic conven-
ience, with the addition of those made from glass, in modern
years, have come down to our day. A variety of them,
which have not found a place in all our dictionaries, are



denominated candelabra. These " have been found with Phoe-
nician and Greek inscriptions. They held a grate or dish in
temples for the sacred fire, and not candles." Of course,
their modern use is different from what it was anciently. A
more important class of them are known as chandeliers^
which is the French for candlesticks. As composed of iron,
pewter, brass, glass, and other materials, and containing few
or many sockets, they have been employed, in modern times,
to light the parlors of the wealthy for the accommodation
of their parties, and also large hotels, besides public halls
and meeting houses, when lectures are delivered after day-
light. But for the last quarter of a century, the different
sorts of candlesticks have been increasingly reduced by the
introduction of oil, and subsequently of gas, instead of can-
dles, so that we seldom see a candlestick used in our large
towns and cities. However, thus falling back into seclusion,
they will have a perpetual remembrance in the instructive
words of the Savior, " Neither do men light a candle, and
put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick ; and it giveth
light unto all that are in the house. Let your light shine
before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify
your Father which is in heaven."

Canister. — This has long been familiar with the uses of
domestic life. Generally of tin, it has been the depository
of various stores, as tea and coffee. Its adaptedness to keep
the strength of the things committed to its charge from be-
ing emitted, renders it a valuable inmate of well-ordered
households. Thus faithful to its trust, there is no fear that
it will be an outcast from the closet or the storeroom, but
will long remain there, as a trustworthy servant.

Cans. — These are defined by lexicographers as being
cups. But the articles which generally pass under the appel-
lation of cans are much deeper and larger than those known
as cups. In some degree, there is an exception to this
remark, respecting the silver vessels which contain the wine
presented to communicants at the Lord's table. These
are more like cans than cups, according to modern percep-
tion of the words.


For the purpose of supplying the family board with beer
and cider, as formerly, cans have not been fashionable for
the last twenty-five years, except for seamen on shipboard.
They have been made of tin, pewter, silver, and other mate-
rials. Those of silver are still preserved in some families, as
memorials of their ancestors, who, though their mortal
remains have long slept in the dust, are still endeared to
them by traditionary associations.

Cards. — These, for preparing flax and wool to be spun,
were common in the families of our first emigrants. The
scarcity of clothing and preference for home manufactures
induced their rulers to order that such articles should be in-
dustriously employed, without distinction of property and
rank. It was long a high compliment to the daughters of
our land, that they were accomplished in such handiwork.
As importations of the fabrics so made, and the factories
among us, were increased, it was found better economy, in
our domestic circles, to buy rather than make the cloths they
wanted. Such a change laid aside the once dexterously ap-
plied cards, which had gone through the various mutations
of improvement in machinery. They are brought out occa-
sionally by the children of thrifty housewives, and exhibited
as curiosities of former custom. In Proverbs we have the
passage, " She seeketh wool and flax, and worketh willingly
with her hands." Though the means of deserving the repu-
tation of usefulness, implied by these words, are rightly dis-
pensed with in our country, still the good name should be
preserved in all other proper directions, so as to comply with
" life's great end."

Carpets. — These provisions of art are of uncertain anti-
quity. The passage in Amos, " And they lay themselves
down upon clothes, laid to pledge by every altar," has been
supposed to signify them. Layard, in his Ruins of Nhie-
veh, states that the carpets of Babylon were no less prized
than her other manufactures ; that they appear to have been
embroidered with figures of animals and flowers. In our
mother country, such articles of luxury were little known in
the twelfth century. A description of Thomas a Becket's


apartments says that they were daily strewn, in winter time,
with clean sti-aw or hay. The manufacture of woolen car-
pets was introduced into France, about 1600, from Persia.
The Loscly Manuscripts give a schedule of the Earl of Som-
erset's effects, (1615,) which comprised " large Persian, Tur-
key, and Egyptian carpets." Lord Bacon has the passage,
" We found him in a fair chamber, richly hanged and car-
peted under feet." Still, when our primitive colonists came
hither, these articles, of such a size, were not abundant in
England. They then included coverings for tables, cup-
boards, desks, trunks, and house passages, as well as floors.
Of course, a large portion of them, as mentioned in the
accounts of property left by our primitive emigrants, are not
such as we now call carpets. Now and then a family among
them would have a carpet, which spread over a considerable
part of the floor in front of chairs and other furniture, at the
sides of the room. Indeed, it was very uncommon for any
of them, fifty years ago, to extend any farther ; and even
these were not generally owned by families of the " middle
interest." Since then they have increased in number, so
that, now, almost every respectable householder can point to
one or more, and some to a half dozen of them, as included
among their chattels. They have also enlarged in size, so
that they spread over the whole area of the floor.

Before they were plentifully introduced, it was fashionable,
during twenty years, for the parlor floor to be handsomely
painted in various figures and for other floors to have thick
coats of yellow paint. But there was a custom with our
primitive settlers of sanding floors to keep them clean. This
generally prevailed in families who had neither paint nor
carpets. Among the charges of William Baker, paid by
Massachusetts, in 1777, was sweeping and sanding the coun-
cil chamber, " against General Court came to town."

Here we have a marked specimen of change. Fashion,
" like children at play," turns from one thing and adopts

Case of Draicers. — Not a few of such tall, venerable-
looking pieces of furniture still survive. They were owned


by some of our early settlers, and made of cherry and black
walnut woods. Supported on high legs, they had drawers
of different lengths and depths, all forming an agreeable
tout ensemble. Some of them have much ornamental work.
They are still used by a few families, who carefully preserve
them for the sake of their revered ancestors. They are keep-
sakes from those who were once familiar with them, but have
long since been conversant with the momentous realities of
the spiritual world.

Castor. — As a frame of wood or metal, it holds small bot-
tles with various condiments. These, as well known, are
oil, vinegar, black and red pepper, mustard and catsup. The
castor, of some form or other, was probably known to
the epicures of antiquity, as well as to others of more tem-
perate habits.

Sixty years ago, it was far from being a general accompa-
niment of the dinner table in New England. Now it is seen
in most families with comfortable means of support. As a
noticeable fact, the supplies of the castor are more frequently
and freely used by such as are fond of other stimulants, than
by others who are not. This is an indication that supplies
of this kind may rather create an unnatural appetite, and
thus trench on the lines of health, and therefore need be
kept with a careful check.

Chafing Dish. — Made of iron, to hold coals, with a grate
at the top, it was placed on the hearth or table, for keeping
food at a desired temperature. It was well known to our
primitive population. In the performance of its office, it
was in frequent requisition to keep venison suitably warm,
as taken from the slain deer, which were plenty in New Eng-
land down to 1750. Since the introduction of furnaces and
stoves, the chafing dish has been scarcely known, and seldom

Chairs. — Seats of some kind must have been among the
first inventions of men. In Samuel we read, " Eli fell from
off the seat backward." Layard's Nineveh has the passage,
" The chair represented on the earliest monuments is without
a back ; the legs are tastefully carved, and the seat is adorned


with the heads of rams. The cusliion appears to have been
made of some rich stuff", embroidered or painted."

Of various forms and materials, chairs were common in
the native land of our fathers, who brought over with them
enough to answer immediate want, and had others made
after their arrival. We have the chair of Elder Brewster,
with a flag bottom, and the oak arm chair of Governor
Winslow. These relics of excellent men are associated in
our minds with domestic scenes of joy and sorrow, experi-
enced under the control of piety, which looked for habitations
eternal in the heavens. Such articles are contained in the
schedules of property left by our earliest inhabitants. To an
estate, in 1646, belonged one wicker and twelve leather bottom
chairs, and to another, in 1670, ten high and two low ones.
There were rush, green cloth, Turkey worked and other bot-
tomed chairs. An inventory of 1704 mentions " one dozen
red calfskin, and one half dozen Paissia red leather chairs."
In 1716, cane chairs, and 1720, " serge " cloth bottomed ones
were advertised for sale in Boston. Elbow cane chairs,
in 1732, were priced at fourteen shillings and sixpence each.

Wooden chairs have been long used. Those with backs,
round at the top and slatted, came into fashion sixty years
ago. Mahogany ones were seldom owned from 1740 to
1800. Seventy-five years ago a set of them cost sixteen dol-
lars apiece. For the last half century, they have increasingly
had a place among the parlor furniture. Before mahogany
was thus used, chairs of cherry wood and black walnut were
generally of the highest price in the market.

Of whatever wood chairs have been made, a large part of
them, for the present age, have had bottoms of hair cloth,
stuffed with horse hair. The constant object of mechanical
invention is to render these conveniences more adapted
to healthful position of the body, as well as more comfort-

Cheese Press. — The food partly prepared by this ma-
chine was long ago used, and thus denotes its antiquity.
We read in the First of Samuel, " Carry these ten cheeses
to the captain." The press, so intimated, was among the


chattels of our deceased farmers. It has continued in the
dairies of our agricultural towns. Gay's Pastorals have the
line, —

" The cleanly cheese press she could never turn."

Churn. — This vessel is referred to in Proverbs : " Surely
the churning of milk bringeth forth butter ; so the forcing of
wrath bringeth forth strife." But Beckmann supposes that
the Seventy translated the Hebrew word, which they thought
signified butter^ incorrectly, and that the act in question was
that of milking, and not making butter. Still, though the
passage is not so plain as others, the Seventy took much
pains to be correct, and so did the editors of King James's
Bible, who, with Baxtorf, agree that the original haimeali,
rendered into Greek bonturon, and into Latin butyrum, signi-
fies butter. Hippocrates says, that the Scythians " pour the
milk of their mares into wooden vessels, and shake it violent-
ly ; this causes it to foam, and the fat part, which is light,
rising to the surface, becomes what is called butter." The
vessels so used were, probably with improvements, known
to our first settlers, and have come down to their agricultural
descendants. Though seldom seen by the great mass of our
population, the product of their operation is generally on
their tables, as a relish to their bread.

Chest of Draivers. — These w^ere coeval with the case of
drawers, for similar purposes, and of like materials. The
chief difference between them was, that, while the latter had
its upper part tastefully narrowed off and finely wrought, the
former had a level top of the same dimensions with its main
body. They were emblematical of the truth that whoever
has the essentials of real worth, though lacking in the finish,
which is merely attractive in appearance, has no cause to be
anxious for the results.

CJiina Ware. — This has a world-wide fame for its fine-
ness and beauty. It has its name from being manufactured,
for the most part, in China. It is called tse-ki by the people
there. The word porcelain, by which the ware is also known
by a few workmen and merchants of that country, seems to


have come from the Portuguese porcelana, a cup. Scaliger
and Cardan are agreed in opinion that it is the same article
as the vasa murrhina, seen in Rome at the time of Pompey's
triumph, and was subsequently accounted very precious.
But udiether their judgment be correct or not in this respect,
they mistook in their description of its manufacture. They
said it was composed of eggs and sea shells, pounded up and
put under ground for a century. By the annals of Fouleam
it is known to have been invented before the fifth century.
The substances of it were kept secret till 1712, when a Jesuit
missionary wrote from Jauchew to his friend that he had pen-
etrated the mystery. He stated that the ware was made of
two kinds of earths, and as many kinds of oils or varnishes.
China was brought to England as early as the sixteenth
century. In their making of it, Europeans have not equaled
the Orientals.

It was not in general use for the first century of our settle-
ment. We find pieces of it in accounts of property, 1640,
1661, 1666, and 1670. The last was of Rev. John Daven-
port's effects.

A box of china was published for sale, in 1732, in Boston.
The cups and saucers, in which tea was drank, after being
introduced, were much smaller than those of our day. They
are objects on which we love to look. They sugo-est the
thought. Surely our good grandmothers must have taken
more than the stated two cups of modern etiquette.

A whole set of such ware now, though ever so excellent,
excites not half the attention which a few pieces of it did a
hundred years ago. Scarcity, and not the quality of an arti-
cle, often gives it the greatest attraction.

Clocks. — The clepsydra, or water clock, is imputed to the
invention of Scipio Nasica, at Rome, 158 B. C. From the
application of the term horologium, by ancient writers, to all
machines which measured time, much difficulty has existed
in fixing on the first introduction of such articles as operated
without the aid of water. Clocks, of some kind, are said to
have been found in Britain by Ca3sar, when he invaded it
B. C. about 55. Stow's Chronicles state, that clocks and


dials were ordered to be set up in chiivclies of England,
506 A. D. Credible authors, who have looked carefully at
the subject, conclude that not until the fourteenth century is
there certain evidence that clocks, as now universally under-
stood, had been used. True, others of repute take a different

Clocks were not abundant among our earliest inhabitants.
We meet with the account of one, in 1653, whose worthy pro-
prietor had long measured his intellectual labors by its punc-
tual warnings, till summoned to take part in the far higher
duties of eternity. Subsequently improved by the addition
of the pendulum, they gradually increased.

Joseph Essex and Thomas Badley, in 1712, offered for sale,
in Boston, the following clocks, from England : thirty hour,
week, month, spring table, chime, quarter, quarter chime,
church, and turret ; also watches, pocket and repeating.
Clocks w^hich ran a week, and repeated the hour when pulled
with a string, were advertised, in 1716, for sale in the same
town. Some clocks, in black walnut cases, as precious me-
mentoes of honored relatives, who lived more than a hun-
dred years ago, still remain and perform their service as faith-
fully as ever.

Such items of furniture did not abound a half century
since. From that period, being of various fabrics and sizes,
they have grown into public favor, and are found in almost
every house. Few are the persons whose health or duties
have never called them to the experience of Dryden, when
he wrote, —

" I told the clocks, and watched the wasting light."

Coffee Mill and Coffee Pot. — The berry, denoted by these
things, was much used in Ai'abia Felix by 1454. The ma-
chine by which it has been gi-ound was used by the Jews in
grinding their manna. The second article of the heading
w^as easily modified, if necessary, from others of similar
form, already invented, so as to hold the coffee over the fire
and on the table, when it was introduced among family
stores. Both of them are so familiar to the ears and memo-
c 4


lies of young and old, that it seenns as though such familiar-
ity must have always existed among the people of New
England. But in their early inventories of estates no such
articles are discovered. The reason of this is, that coffee, as
a beverage, was not common with the inhabitants till long
after 1700, though it was mentioned in the English statutes
of 1660, and used at Oxford in 1641. But so long as this
liquid continues popular, — and it bids fair to be so with many
while the world stands, — the machine which grinds, and the
utensil which boils to jirejjare it, will hold a prominent place
among the kitchen furniture.

Couches. — These, of various materials, have long held a
place among family furniture. While afflicted with disease,
the Psalmist said, " I water my couch with my tears." In
Vii'gil's Georgics, we have the line, —

" To loll on couches, rich with citron steads."

These articles, for the same general purpose of affording
rest, were used in Old England, and by some who came
thence to people our shores. They were fashionable among
families of substance till a half century since. Part of
them, advertised for sale in Boston in 1715, had silk beds and
cushions. Instead of backs, which sofas and settees have,
they had a similar support for the body at one end. Though
in name they have been withdrawn from the vocabulary of
fashion, they have left their essential part under other denom-
inations. Distinctions are often made where there is no
great difference.

Cradle. — This article, of some form or other, whether
wooden or wicker, is very likely to have been known in every
nation. Cicero said, " Vag-ire in cunis " — to cry in the cradle.
It may justly offer the following plea : " Things not so im-
portant, and surely not connected with so many endeared as-
sociations with the better half of the world, are found some-
times historically and scientifically described in large tomes,
while, in the same volumes, you perceive me turned off with
the laconic paragraph, ' a well-known machine, in which
children are rocked to sleep.' Is this all ? Yes, it is all.


Antiquaries give you drawings and accounts of the chair,
table, and even spoon, &c., but the rockers of all infant hu-
manity, from the heir of bondage to the heir of a monarch's
sceptre, are left to take care of their own merits." We must
allow the correctness of this statement, and here make a record
of it, so that the complainant may receive as much notice
as other less important sundries of household establishments.
Prior remarks, —

" The cradle and the tomb, alas ! so nigh,
To live is scarce distinguished from to die."

Cream Pots. — These are found among the possessions of
our early inhabitants. As our primitive mothers had neither
tea nor coffee to regale themselves, families, and friends with,
we cannot satisfactorily conjecture what they had to be
creamed beside fruit, except warm water, sweetened with
molasses or sugar. We have tradition through an old lady,
long since deceased, that she attended a party so entertained.



Cricket, Crockery, Cullender or Strainer, Cushions, Cups, Delft "Ware, Desks,
Dials, Dipper, Dressing Glasses, Dripping Pan, Dredging Box, Earthen
Ware, Escritoire, Ewer, Extinguishers, Fenders, Elesh Hooks, Forms, Fruit
Dish, Frying Pans, Glass Cases, Glass Ware, Graters, Grates, Gridiron, Hat
Stand, Horn, Hourglass, Indian Dishes, Iron, Brass, and Copper Ware,
Jack, Jacks and Spits, Japan Cases, Kcelcr, Kettles, Keys, Knives and Forks,
Kowle or Cowl, Ladles, Lamps, Lanterns, Latten Ware, Lisbon Ware, Log-
gerhead, Looking Glasses, Mahogany Furniture, Mangle, Money Scales,
Musical Instruments, Napkin, Pails, Pans, Patty Pans, Peels, Pestle and

2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

Online LibraryJoseph B. (Joseph Barlow) FeltThe customs of New England → online text (page 2 of 18)