Joseph B. (Joseph Barlow) Felt.

The customs of New England online

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Dryden says of a brass or copper one in its brightest array, —

" The fire thus formed, she sets the Jcettla on ;
Like bumishcd gold the little soother shone."

Keys. — For fastening chests and doors, these were known
to our primitive settlers. They were far from being so plenty
with them, in the ratio of population, as with us in these
days, when the boldest and bloodiest of robbers daily com-
mit their crimes among or around us. We read of them at
the siege of Troy, about 1188 B. C , and before this, in Judges,
of one which unlocked the parlor where Eglon had fallen by
the dagger of Ehud. Like all inventions to guard against
human violence, they indicate the apostasy of our race.

Knives and Forks. — The former, from their usefulness,
were probably among the first inventions of men, after they
became acquainted with the manufacture of metals. Those
for the table, as well as for other purposes, must have been
thus ancient. The former sort appear to be meant in the
following passage of Proverbs : " When thou sittest to eat
with a ruler, consider diligently what is before thee ; and put
a knife to thy throat if thou be given to appetite." They and
others were made by one Matthews, (1503,) Fleet Bridge,
London. Of various forms and sizes, they have come down
to our day. A parcel of them in 1693, belonging to one of
our inhabitants, had silver handles.

Relative to forks, those of a large size, for removing fodder
and other substances, have been long employed. The Jews
filed them to oppose the Philistines.

With regard to forks used at meals, they seem to be of
far less antiquity. We are informed that, prior to being
fashionable in England, skewers were employed to hold the
meat when carved. Henry, in his history of that kingdom,
says that, previous to 1600, " at every meal, the fingers were


used to keep the meat steady, and convey it to the mouth."
This is likely to have been the practice of our early settlers,
in both high and low life. How repulsive to the feelings of
multitudes would such a custom now be I though, while
common, it caused no emotions of surprise.

It has been generally supposed, as stated by Thomas Cor-
yat, that forks were imported from Italy into England, in the
reign of James I., who deceased in 1625, and that, at their
earliest appearance, they w^ere ridiculed as an indication of
useless effeminacy. But we are assured that they were
mentioned among the furniture of Edward I. Voltaire
states that they were known in Europe in the thirteenth and
fourteenth centuries. Moryson's Itinerary of Elizabeth's
reign has the subsequent passage : " At Venice each person
was served, besides his knife and a spoon, with a fork to hold
the meat while he cuts it ; for there they deem it ill manners
that one should touch it with his hand." Coryat, in 1608,
after describing the mode of using the fork in Italy, remarks,
" I myself have thought it good to imitate the Italian fashion
since I came home to England." Loseley's manuscripts, in
giving an account of articles which belonged to the Earl of
Somerset, in 1615, mention a valuable fork with a knife and

Still it is evident that forks, though our first colonists must
have heard of them, as well as their kindred whom they left
behind, were not fashionable in New England for a consid-
erable period. A large number of schedules of property left
by our fathers, do not contain them before 1700. In a public
advertisement in Boston, 1713, cases of knives and forks are
specified, as if commonly known. Samuel Brown, of Salem,
in 1723, imported many dozens of the same articles from

Silver forks were limitedly used in New England till a
half century ago. Since then, they have continued to in-
crease at the boards of families in comfortable circumstances,
as w^ell as of the more wealthy. Such forks of a smaller
size, and knives to correspond with them, have come into
considerable vogue for the last ten years. Ambition shows
D* 6


itself in instruments of eating, as well as in all the appurte-
nances of human life.

* Kowle, or Coivl. — This was a vessel in which water was
carried on a pole between two persons. It was used by our
earliest inhabitants. It long ago became obsolete in our
common conversation. . .

Ladles. — These, ever known in our families, and used for
taking liquids from different vessels, are like spoons much
enlarged. Prior wrote, —

"A ladk for our silver dish
Is -ft-liat I want, is what I wish."

Lamps. — These, for domestic pm'poses, were common
among the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. Abraham, who
died about 2179 A. M., saw, in a vision, a burning lamp, that
passed between the pieces of the sacrifice which he offered
unto the Lord. It is related, that so valuable a curiosity
was the earthen lamp of Epictetus, the philosopher, estimat-
ed, that, after his decease, in 161 A. D., it was sold for one
hundred pounds sterling.

Lamps, of diflerent substances and patterns, were common
in England when our emigrants left it, and they continued
to use them. Their descendants have followed their example.
Such articles have been greatly improved in power to throw
off light. The astral and solar ones very much exceed, in
this respect, those which were fashionable thirty years ago.
Since gas has been used, in a few of our cities, for street
lights, it has made headway in displacing oil lamps from
some private dwellings. Milton says, —

" O thievish night,
"Why shouldst thou, but for some felonious end.
In th}^ dark lantern thus close up the stars.
That nature hung in heaven, and filled their lamps
With everlasting oil, to give due light
To the misled and lonely traveler r "

Lanterns. — These, as safeguards against the communica-
tion of fire to combustibles, when examined during darkness,
have been probably coeval with candlesticks and lamps.


We read the scriptural account, in which Judas is represented
as coming to betray the Saviour, and approaching him with
a band of men who bore " lanterns, torches, and weapons."
We are informed that Alfred invented such articles as had
sides of scraped horn instead of glass. Of various materials
and forms, they have been always used and known by some
of our population. In the Government of the Tongue we
have the passage, " Vice is like a dark lantern, which turns
its bright side only to him that bears it."

Latten Ware. — This was made of brass. One of our
primitive families, in 1654, had pans of it, and another, in
1660, had a lamp of the like material. Such ware is often
contained in our inventories before 1700. Though not used
now for all the things it was then, it still has its representa-
tives in some of our dwellings.

Lisbon Ware. — This was so called, because, as was sup-
posed, it was brought from the port of Lisbon. It was
earthen, and made into vessels of domestic use. We find it
mentioned in 1654, as left by one of om* deceased inhabitants.

Loggerhead. — The name given to a long iron handle
with a head. The purpose of it, in the periods when flip
was common, was to be heated and then put into such liquor
to warm and make it foam. However omitted, in this sense,
by lexicogi'aphers, it is impressed on the memory of many
who have seen it in both private and public houses. Though
not signifying what its verbal use sometimes does, even fight-
ing with fists, yet the drink with which it had much to do,
when sufficiently qualified with spirits, would often produce
such disgraceful collisions. There is no greater truth than,
" When wine is in, wit is out."

Looking Glasses. — Mirrors were known far back in an-
cient times. As made of brass, they are denoted in the pas-
sage where it is related that Moses made a " brazen laver or
basin of the looking glasses of the women, continually
assembled at the door of the tabernacle." Some commenta-
tors have supposed that the brass so used was only in the
frames of the mirrors, and that the latter were of a vitreous
material. But the most learned rabbins do not allow that
it was so.


Beckmann observes, that anciently mirrors were of copper,
silver, and gold, and also of some stones, as well as brass.
Before the Spaniards peopled America, the natives had them
concave and convex, of the obsidian stone, used by the Ro-
mans for the same purpose. It is the opinion of Beckmann
that the mirrors mentioned by Pliny, as made at Sidon, were
not fully so. The former of these two authors remarks, that
he is acquainted with no certain traces of such articles of
glass till the thirteenth century, after which they are often
mentioned. Still, as very choice glass was manufactured
among the Romans long before the birth of Christ, it is not
improbable that mirrors of the same material were then
known. They were manufactured at Venice in 1300, and in
England, by Venetian artists, in 1678. Stubbs remarks of
women, " They must have their looking glasses carried with
them wheresoever they go." Strutt says that this custom
was common in the seventeenth century. In 1656, such
small articles of glass, in London, were low in price, and
those of steel were from five to ten shillings a dozen.

The author of Domestic Life observes that, however long
before the reign of Charles II., they, being of a small size,
were carried about persons of quality, they were introduced
as furniture in the time of this sovereign. But among the
things left by Rev. Nathaniel Rogers, of Ipswich, Massachu-
setts, in 1655, was a gilt looking glass in his parlor chamber.
Several inventories, near this date, show that looking glasses
were enumerated among household furniture.

For the first century of New England, large looking glasses
were far less in number, proportionably to the population,
than they have been since. It was formerly the case that
scarcely a family could be found who had more than one of
them. The remark of South, " There is none so homely
but loves a looking glass," had far less application to our
primitive parents than to their children. For forty years such
reflectors have increased in number and size, to answer the
fashion, which is not satisfied without one in every room.
A prince among poets wrote, —

" Command am.irror hither straight,
Tliat it may show me v.'hat a face I have."


Mahog-a?iy Furniture. — The wood so indicated has the
botanical name of Swietenia^ which was given by Jacquin
in honor of the noted Van Swieten, first physician to Maria
Theresa. It made its appearance in New England, for vari-
ous articles of household furniture, about a century and a
quarter ago. It did not begin to be common till 1800, as
previously stated. Benjamin Hallo well, connected with the
custom house, and thus offensive to the people for aiding to
collect duties demanded by the mother government, lost by a
mob, in Boston, in 17(io, mahogany tables, chairs, and desks.
The good appearance of such wood, especially that of Ja-
maica, when wrought into different sorts of furniture, is
likely to secure it a high stand on the directory of fashion.

Mangle. — It is sometimes called jack mangle. Its pur-
pose is for smoothing linen. It has been not only an impor-
tant machine of the laundry, but also of some thrifty
households. Essentially different in its signification from the
verb, having all the same letters, it is not to lacerate, but to
impart comely appearance to appendages of its domestic sit-
uation. If not thus coming up to its purpose, the fault is
chargeable to its operators.

r Money Scales. — These were common in families who
were in the habit of handling hard foreign money, which was
brought among them by commercial enterprise. The gold,
so circulated, often needed to be tried in its weight, so that
no loss in value might be sustained. This was so in our
country until banks and brokers arose, and kept enough scales,
and regulated the current specie, so that the heads of families
no longer had any call for such emblems of justice. We
are told that they are abundant in our western Ophir. They
are figuratively alluded to in the subsequent passage : —

" I weigh no merit by the common scale ;
The conscience is the test."

Musical Instruments. — These, as used in a few of our
earliest families, were the spinet, virginal, and treble viol.
The first was a small harpsichord. The second was so
called, because usually played by young women. It was a


favorite with Queen Elizabeth. The third, while tiie other
two, for a long time, have been scarcely heard of, has con-
tinued to be known and used till the present. The prophet
Isaiah said, " The harp and viol are in their feasts." It is
likely that the flute found a place among these instruments.
The harpsichord was long used by the lovers of music, who
had sufficient means to be its possessors. An advertisement
of 1764 offered one for sale in Boston. The piano-forte, be-
ing an improvement upon it, was gradually working its way
into favor in 1795, and has since become common through
New England. Though none of the young women, who
took part in the stirring scenes of our newly-settled colonies,
could literally have assigned to them the skill which hyper-
bolical tradition attributes to St. Cecilia, so that her music
drew down a celestial angel, still we believe there were some
whose strains charmed the ear and heart of domestic rela-
tives and visiting friends.

Napkin. — This is generally of choicer fabric and larger
size than the towel. It has been long used among civilized
nations. In the impressive parable of Christ, relative to the
ten servants summoned by their returned master to give an
account, one, who had been unfaithful, said, " Behold, here is
thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin." This
article was owned and used by our primitive housewives, as
well as by their descendants. An inventory of 1655 speci-
fies twenty-three napkins. Associated with the one bound
over the face of our Redeemer, as he lay in the sepulchre,
and then found carefully laid by itself after his resurrection,
such articles have more than a usual interest in our thoughts
when named.

Pails. — These, of various materials, can look far back for
their origin. They are so universally known, they can hardly
excite interest enough to be mentioned among their coadju-
tors for human convenience. Still, for their real merit in this
respect, we will say, " Room for the pails." They have
shamed many a bright shining and more costly implement,
which has not done half of their service.

Pans. — These are mentioned in the Old Testament. As


defined by Johnson, they are broad and shallow vessels. But
there are other pans, for bread, puddings, etc., which arc
deeper than they are shallow. The former are generally
used for holding milk in dairies, to give a larger surface, and
afl'ord a greater quantity of cream for the manufacture of
butter. Such articles, of different materials and of various
sizes, have been always used in our country.

Patty Pans. — They were generally of tin, and scolloped,
and made to hold small pies. They had an aperture in the
middle of the bottom, covered with a piece of the same ma-
terial, which received a pressure of the finger to help off the
pies when cooked. They are not mentioned in our modern
dictionaries. Though little seen or known now, they once
had their day of notoriety.

Peels. — These, of wood or iron, were known to our early
population. They had a long handle, with a sort of shovel
form at the end, for the purpose of putting bread into the
oven. They continue with the families who bake for them-
selves. This was much more the practice formerly than it
has been the last sixty years.

Pestle and Mortar. — These, of bell metal, brass, and
marble, were common among our primitive planters. To
such may be added those of wood and iron. They were
known in ancient times. We have the passage in Proverbs,
" Though thou shouldest bray a fool in a mortar among
wheat with a pestle, yet will not his foolishness depart from
him." The same convenient articles have been continued
till our day, for A^arious purposes of cookery. Bacon re-
marked, " Except you could bray Christendom in a mortar,
and mould it into a new paste, there is no possibility of a
holy war."

Pewter Ware. — This, as a compound of metals, has been
long known. In 1430, permit was granted for a ship to carry
some vessels of it from England to the King of Scotland.
It was always abundant among our good livers, till much of
it was put aside by crockery from England, sixty years ago.
Richard Graves, of Salem, in 1637, was a pewterer. Of the
articles from the hands of such manufacturers, met with in


the earliest period of our country, were the tankard, porrin-
ger, bowl, pan, plate, platter, spoon, and even bottle. These
and other things of the same material, much more fit for
them than for the money imposed on Ireland by James II.,
made a conspicuous appearance on the kitchen shelves of
every well-regulated household. There, as Addison remarks,
" The eye of the mistress made the pewter shine." He
meant, of course, in some such way as Solomon built the
temple. Now, this part of furniture is so seldom used, that
scarcely ever is such ambition called into exercise.

Pictures. — The production of these is traced far back in
the world's history. Plato informs us, that Osymandyas had
his exploits painted, in 2100 B, C. The Lord commanded
Moses to drive the Canaanites out from their land, and " de-
stroy all their pictures and molten images." The natural
attachment which most persons possess for the delineating
art was manifested by the founders of our country, as well
as by their ancestors in England. Among our inventories
which contain pictures, we find one of 1655, that has two ;
another of 1650, that has the same number ; and another in
1677, which has seven. Besides, there are various likenesses
of some of our principal settlers. Though it is generally
supposed that Blackburne and Smybert were our first painters
about 1725, while John Watson was of New Jersey in 1715,
still there are some drawings, before these years, which cir-
cumstances denote were done here, and not in Europe. The
taste for such productions of various kinds, which ornament
the walls of private dwellings, has been much more indulged
since 1810 than before. Wotton remarks, " Quintilian,
when he saw any well-expressed image of grief, either in
pictures or sculpture, would usually weep."

Pig-gin. — This, as a small wooden vessel, is used for such
purposes as dipping water or other liquids. It was an old
acquaintance with our first settlers. AVhile inventions in the
mechanic arts have turned off from the list of domestic fur-
niture some of its former contemporaries, it still holds its post
as a welcome helper. The nature of its employment is likely
to keep it from the anxious uncertainty of dependants on
})olitical favor.


Pillow. — This is the well-known article of ticking, filled
with feathers, or down, or other soft substance, for resting the
head. Moses w^s acquainted with it, when he wrote of one
much harder, in the passage, Jacob " put stones for his pil-
low." Our ancestors enjoyed it as well as their descendants,
though it is thought, that the former did not indulge them-
selves so long upon it as the latter. Milton says, —

" "When the sxm, in bed,
Curtained with cloudy red,
Pillowed his chin upon an orient wave."

Pilloiu Bears. — This was the common appellation given
by our great-grandmothers to pillow cases.

Pitchers. — As earthen and metallic, of various forms and
sizes, these things have long held a place among domestic
chattels. We remember the story of Gideon and his three
hundred men, wherein such vessels were dashed in pieces,
and were thus instrumental in putting to flight the host of
the Midianites. Of fine material and graceful shape, pitch-
ers have been discovered in the ruins of Pompeii. They
were brought from England, and have ever been in general
use among our families. The hint, sometimes given by one
senior to another, but not always with just occasion, when
their discourse is not well to be repeated, and is in the pres-
ence of attentive children, is well known — " Little pitchers
have great ears."

Plates and Platters. — The former were less and the latter
were larger shallow dishes to hold various kinds of food.
We find them spoken of in the Exodus of the Israelites.
They were common in the households of our first colonists,
and the greater part of them were of pewter, and the rest
were earthen. We read in one of our old inventories of 1656,
" Spanish platters," and in some of them, " painted platters,"
and latten plates, single and double, black and white.

There were others made of wood, which went by the
name of trenchers. Such dishes, as well known, have con-
tinued to our day, though much altered in the material with
which they have been manufactured. They are as plenty
E 7


now, of the English and China ware, as they were formerly
of pewter.

It is fifty years since small plates, with knives and forks of
a diminutive size, were put on our supper and breakfast tables.
Before this, bread, cheese, fish, and other relishes were placed
near the cups and saucers, while the butter was taken from
its dish as the members of the family chose.

" Ascanius this observed, and smiling said,
See, •\ve devour the jikdes, on which -vve feed."

Poker. — The iron instrument which stirs the coal fire.
It was probably the companion of such fuel several centu-
turies prior to the settlement of our country. It must have
been an assistant to those of our population who imported
and used Newcastle coal. But its use, prior to the modern
consumption of hard coal among us, was comparatively lim-
ited. To those who apply it, either from habit or need, in
cold, wintry weather, it is a handy friend, and afibrds them
diversion, if not comfort.

Porrins;ers. — Thou.o;h we have not seen the use of these
carried far back, yet there can be little doubt that they have
had a long existence. They are derived, by lexicographers,
from porridge. Filled with this and broth, they presented
them to most of the New England households at their break-
fast and supper, until tea and coffee put these liquids, on such
occasions, out of fashion. Porringers were chiefly of pewter.
One family, in 1660, had nine, and another, in 1661, had
seven of them. They were among the shining wares, which
every good housewife was careful should adorn her kitchen
dressers. Though mute, they impressively signified, "We
have a mistress, who, to keep up her credit of niceness,
often orders us to have hard scrubbings." This reminds us
of Swift's words, —

" The porringers, that in a row
Hung high, and made a glittering show."

Posnet. — This is called by Johnson a little basin, or por-
ringer, or skillet. It is often mentioned among the furniture


of our first inhabitants. Its use, in one particular, is supposed
to have been for the making of posset — a custom brought
from our mother country. It has been so seldom named
among our population for three fourths of a century, that it
is almost obsolete in our language. Though it is tims laid
aside, yet the things to which it was once often applied still
survive, and are widely known.

Pots. — One of these, as we remember, is mentioned in
an interesting event of the Scriptures. The sons of the
prophets, partaking of the pottage provided by order of Eli-
sha, "cried out, and said, O thou man of God, there is
death in the pot.'^

Another sort of them are employed for different purposes.
In John we read, " The woman left her water pot and went
her way." They comprise even smaller vessels than these.
Swift remarks, —

*' A soldier drinks his pot, and then offers pay."

They have ever found a place in New England homes where
thrift has prevailed.

Pothooks and Trammels. — These are noted appendages
of the fireplace, where wood is the fuel, for holding pots and
kettles. The first of them are short, crooked at both ends,
and the last are much longer, alike bent, with two parts, one
to be moved up or down, and fastened into the other. They
are among the oldest standards of the kitchen. Till within

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Online LibraryJoseph B. (Joseph Barlow) FeltThe customs of New England → online text (page 4 of 18)