Joseph B. (Joseph Barlow) Felt.

The customs of New England online

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a half century, the trammels would go far up the chimney,
which had no crane, and be supported by a piece of iron
across from one side to the other. The first essays in
writing, by scholars, were formerly and frequently called
pothooks and trammels. These, however companions of
smoke and soot, have still done essential service in the
culinary line.

Pottery. — This is a generic term to signify different sorts
of earthen ware for domestic purposes. It is used by Lay-
ard to denote articles found among the ruins of Nineveh. It
is signified by the passage in Psalms, " Thou shalt dash


them in pieces like a potter's vessel." It was abundant
among the aborigines of Mexico. Prior says, —

•' He, like the potter, in a mould hath cast
The ■world's great frame."

Press. — This is a case to hold clothes and other things.
It was no stranger in the land of our fathers before they
came to America. The idea of it was brought hither by
them, and they soon gave it a sensible form. Their help-
meets greeted such handiwork, as a convenient and nice re-
ceptacle for the apparel of their families. The press, though
not like that which forces away goods and men for public
exigencies, still continues to receive with readiness all which
it can hold for the accommodation of its owners.



Prospect Glasses, Punch Bowl, Quern, Pteelers, Rugs, Salad Dish, Salt Cel-
lar, Sauce Pans, Saucers, Savealls, Scales and Weights, Scissors and Shears,
Sconces, Screens, Secretaries, Server, Salver, Tray, and Waiter, Settle,
Shovel and Tongs, Shredding Knives, Sideboards, Sieves, Silver Ware,
Skewer, Skillets, Skimmer, Smoothing, Flat and Box L.'ons, Snuffers and
Snuff Dishes, Sofa, Spice Boxes, Spinning Wheels and Cards, Spit, Spoons,
Squab, Stand, Standish, Stills, Stone Ware, Stool, Stoves, Strainers, Sugar
Bowl, Sugar Tongs, Swab, Tables, Table Bells, Tablecloths, Tankard, Tea
Kettles and Pots, Tea Table, Thimble, Tin Ware, Toasting Iron, Toothpick,
Towel, Tray, Trenchers, Tureen, Tubs, Urns, Voiders, Warming Pans, W"ash
Basin, Wash Stand, Wooden Ware, Writmg Desk.

Prospect Glasses. — These, for the rational amusement of
bringing objects, unseen by the unassisted eye, within the
range of vision, or those scarcely discerned to be plainly
perceived, were among the household possessions of a few,
who were fathers of our commonwealth. We find one of
them, in 1684, for a watchhouse, valued at nine shillings and
sixpence. As years have rolled on, and art has made ad-
vances, such instruments have been improved and increased.
Milton remarks, —

" The moon, whose orb,
Through optic glass, the Tuscan artist views."

Punch Boivl. — For a long time, till 1800, this article, gen-
erally of china, was common in families of substantial
means. For the most part, it held a gallon, and was placed,
with other valuable ware, in a cupboard, at one corner of
the room. The liquid called punch., from which the bowl
derived its name, was a customary treat for company, but a
prolific contribution to the gout. There was no suspicion
of impoliteness, when all the guests successively partook of
such drink from the same vessel. After 1800, though the
bowl and its beverage declined in being fashionable, they


received their lowest level from the temperance reform, in 1826.
Since, bowls of this kind have seldom or never been seen at
parties, with flowing liquid, to create a habit of intoxication,
and to excite an irrational joy at the cost of tenfold more
sorrow. They are preserved in some families, as keepsakes
of the past, and as signs of a departed custom.

Quern. — This was a hand mill. It is mentioned several
times in the early inventories of our ancestors. It had smaU
stones for its pulverizing process. Families used it to grind
corn and other things, when water or windmills were want-
ing, or were at an inconvenient distance. Chapman wrote,

" Some apple-colored corn
Ground in fair querns, and some did spindles turn."

Reelers. — These appear to be the same as reels. Since
the factories of our country have done the work which they
used to do, reelers are scarcely ever seen in any of our house-
holds. Prior to such a change, few were the families who
did not have them industriously employed. Being frames,
on which yarn was wound into skeins from the spindle, it
was amusing to see the busy young women show off their
skill and expedition, in handling them for such a purpose.
It was also a refined entertainment, when several were to-
gether in such labor, uniting their voices in notes of various
music. So occupied, they had no experience of ennui.

Rugs. — These, as coarse nappy coverlets, for common
beds, were used by our primitive families. We read that
when Deborah judged Israel, Jael, as Cruden renders the pas-
sage, covered Sisera with a rug. Such articles have been
little known among our fm-niture for the last half century,
and, of course, the word denoting them is seldom applied in
such a sense.

The term 7'ug-s, for the period just mentioned, has signified
a sort of mats, placed in entries, for cleaning the feet. They
are a great relief, when properly used by the careful, to the
anxiety of neat housewives, lest their endeavors to keep
clean shall be disappointed. All who wish to make others
happy should be careful in this respect.


Salad Disk. — This was an article which helped make up
the whole array for the dinner table of good livers. Its office,
as well known, has been to present a wholesome and popu-
lar vegetable, as a relish for meats. It deserves a remem-
brance in the enumeration of family goods. Ben Jonson
had his eye on it, when he wrote, —

" You have to rectify your palate,
An olive, capers, or some better salad.
Ushering the mutton."

Salt Cellar. — Of some material and form or other, such
an article is likely to have been invented far back in antiquity,
to hold the salt then used. It was divinely commanded in
Leviticus, " Every oblation of thy meat offering shalt thou
season with salt." Anciently it was customary, in England,
to have a large salt cellar placed in the middle of tables be-
longing to families of substance and rank. The guests who
were placed above it, towards the head, were of higher station
than those who were seated below it, towards the foot.
Thence it became a general remark of persons who were
highly respectable as to condition and character, they are
above the salt, and of others, they are below the salt.

The salt cellar, thus known in England, was brought by
emigrants thence to our shores, and has always held a
place among the household effects of all families in comfort-
able circumstances. We meet with handsome cut ones in
1744. Position with us, in regard to the salt, is not allowed
to be a standard of respectability so much as virtuous prin-
ciples and conduct. There is need, however, for improve-
ment in this respect. Factitious distinctions should always
give place to those of true worth.

Sauce Pans. — These are well known metallic vessels, for
boiling vegetables and fruits to improve the relish of meats.
Though their vocation is humble in its nature, they are still
noted for the frequent gratification they afford to the temper-
ate taste. They have no ambition to be reckoned in one of its
syllables as the primitive of the word which signifies impu-
dent and such like undesirable qualifications. Even Dr.
Johnson stepped forward as their knight errant. His de-


fence is, " I know not how this word [saucy) can be easily
deduced from sauce ; it may come more properly from salsiis"

Saucers. — These are often mentioned among the effects
of our first inhabitants. The people then did not so closely
associate them with cups as their descendants did after tea
and coffee came into general use, and were drank from such
vessels, and as we do for a like reason.

Saucers originally derived their name from being set on
the table with sauce in them. They have long been hyper-
bolically applied to denote large organs of vision. Hudibras
has the passage, —

" Some have mistaken blocks and posts
For spectres, apparitions, ghosts,
With saucer eyes and horns."

Savealls. — These were among the family possessions of
our early inhabitants. They continued to be far more exten-
sively used while candles were the principal light of our
houses, in the evening, than since the large substitution of
oil, camphene, and other things, for tallow and wax. It may
be well, for those not acquainted with savealls, to remark,
that these were made of metal, fitted to stand in the candle-
stick, with pieces of wire to hold the small end of a candle,
so that it might be entirely burned out. Some may think,
that this was more particular than necessary. But it was a
preservation of what would have been otherwise wasted,
and in view of the ancient saying that " many a little makes
a mickle."

Scales and Weig-hts. — These were long before the days
of Isaiah, who, in speaking of the Most High, says, "who
hath weighed the mountains in scales, and hills in a bal-
ance." While money was scarce among our colonists, and
barter was much more necessary than afterwards, scales and
weights were in considerable requisition as family appen-
dages. They are still numbered among household chattels, to
some extent, and are very convenient occasionally to settle
doubts as to the honesty of traders as well as to weigh the
ingredients of cake made according to rule.


Scissors and Shears. — As to the latter of these, we read
in Genesis, that " Judah went up to his sheep shearing." As
shears are the scissors made larger, they both must date far
back in human inventions. Essential in the making or re-
pairing of clothes, scissors have always been, in New Eng-
land, an appendage to domestic supplies. Their adroit and
industrious use by the sisters of a family is far more honor-
able to them than skill exclusively employed on the harp,
lute, or piano.

Shears have been generally employed by professed tailors.
From Sidney we have the passage, " Alas ! thought Philo-
cles to herself, your shears come too late to clip the bird's
wings that already is flown."

Sconces. — These had a branch, with a socket at the bot-
tom to hold a candle, and a case about two feet high, filled
with glittering forms of flowers, fruits, and animals, covered.
with glass. When the candles were lighted, the effect was

The ornamental figures of sconces were made at a school
in Boston, by females of that and adjacent towns. An ac-
count shows that Deborah, the daughter of David Jacob, of
Scituate, attended such a school in 1716, and the family
where she boarded charged her seven shillings a week.
There is a pair of sconces, now extant, prepared, at the same
school, by the mother of the first President Adams's wife.

Such articles, instead of a case, covered as above, some-
times had a looking glass, to reflect the light of the candle.
Dryden has the couplet, —

" Golden sconces hang upon the walls,
To light the costly supper and the halls."

Screens. — These were probably among the first inventions
for human comfort. They have been protectors of the eyes
against excessive light, and of the face against hot sun, rain,
snow, and wind. Those employed in the house, to stand on
the table, or on the floor, were fitted accordingly, while others
were made to be held in the hand. The latter were much more
fashionable for out-door use, before umbrellas and parasols



became common. They are seldom seen in our day. Prior
says, —

"To cheapen fans or buy a screen,"

Secretaries. — These are not contained in the dictionaries
of Johnson and other lexicographers. Their upper part is
for books, and their lower has drawers for various articles.
Besides, they have a leaf, which is turned over on movable
supporters, for writing. They derived their name from scrive-
ners, who used them. We hear and read of them as more
fashionable for the last fifty years than before.

Server^ Salver, Truij, and Waiter. — All these terms have
been used to signify the same thing essentially. They have
been employed for serving people, or waiting on them, with
edibles of various kinds. Their form and utility are no ob-
jection to the belief, but rather an indication that they must
have been among the first supplies for housekeeping. The
Boston News Letter of 1718 contains a notice, that a per-
son, who construed tuum to signify meum, had carried off a
silver server. Addison observed, " A salver of spectators
would be as acceptable an entertainment for the ladies as a
salver of sweetmeats."

Settle. — This word was used by the prophet Ezekiel, rel-
ative to the altar of the temple. " From the bottom to the
lower settle shall be two cubits." As used by our ancestors
and their successors, the settle was generally made of pine,
had a seat sufficient to hold four or five persons, and a high
back to keep off" the cold. Its location was in the kitchen,
on the side of the great fireplace, next to the door, which let
in the largest volume of air. They w^ere common in our
suburban towns till sixty years ago. Occasionally some of
them are met with in country places, to remind us of social
scenes that have passed away with the partakers thereof, and
of household articles once abundant. Dryden says, —

" The man their hearty -welcome first expressed,
A common settle drew for either guest.
Inviting each his -weary limbs to rest."

Shovel and Tongs. — These were among the earliest arti-


cles of household furniture. They long stood separately on
each side of the fireplace, sustained by two jamb hooks. Of
steel and brass for the best rooms, they were kept finely pol-
ij>hed. But as grates and stoves have been introduced, such
old standards have been cleared away, so that, in many hab-
itations, they are neither seen nor known. With regard to
one of them, Spenser says, —

" Another did the dying brands repair
With iron tongs, and sprinkled oft the same
"With liquid waves."

Shredding Knives. — These instruments are not unfi'e-
quently found among our early household articles. They
are intimated by the passage in Kings, " One gathered
wild gourds, and shred them into the pot of pottage." They
were and are employed to cut any thing into small pieces.
The participial qualification given to such knives was much
more frequently used in ancient than in modern times. It
is a term now seldom used.

Sideboards. — These were tables for conveniences of the
family, or party, while partaking of their meals in the middle
of the room. Of various sorts of wood, they have been
long known in our country, as well as in Europe. As made
of mahogany, they have been used by many families the last
fifty years, though considerably less for the latter half of this
period than before. The time of their greatest reign was
prior to the suppression of intemperance, when decanters
covered a considerable part of their tops, with metallic labels,
having Port, Madeira, Jamaica, Cognac, and such spirited
signs to quicken the appetite for " an enemy which steals
away the brains." Milton understood this even in his time,
as his language imports : —

'• At a stately sideboard, by the wine
That fragrant smell diffused."

Sieves. — It is likely that the primitive portion of the hu-
man family were contented to eat ground corn without sep-
arating the meal from the bran, but that they soon adopted
the hand sieve to make such a separation. The Romans


were acquainted with this invention. Isaiah, the prophet,
says, " And his breath, as an overflowing stream, shall reach
to the midst of the neck, to sift the nations with the sieve of
vanity." The good housewives of New England have ever
been careful tliat the sieve should be so applied, that their
families should not have bran, except for medical pm*poses,
and other dispensables, in their bread, whether of Indian,
flour, or rye, singly or mLxed.

" Thy counsel
Falls now into my ears as profitless
As water into a sieve."

Silver Ware. — In the Scriptm-e, we do not read of more
valuable metals than iron and brass, as existing before the
flood. But the writer of the Pentateuch mentions silver ves-
sels of his time, as chargers and bowls. Each family of
substance, among our earliest colonists, brought over some
such property. They had spoons, cups, porringers, tankards,
and other articles. Of those who left things of this kind
were Rev. Nathaniel Rogers, of Ipswich, who had thirty-five
pounds eighteen shillings' worth of it, and Rev. John Dav-
enport, who died in Boston, in 1670, and had fifty pounds'
worth. In 1656, a fruit dish, sugar spoon, a small salt, and
a great one, besides a piece not particularized, were given
to Harvard College by three persons.

Silver ware increased as the wealthy part of the popula-
tion did, who, for the last sixty years, hav^e multiplied it in
dish covers, tea and coffee pots, slop and sugar bowls, fish
and pie slices, ladles, knives and forks, etc., besides in the
preceding articles. Expenditures in this direction have
risen with, and sometimes above, pecuniary means. Inde-
pendence, as to the real comforts of life, is often lost by the
ambition of vying with others, who comply with fancy more
than with respectable need in furnishing their habitations.
Young remarks, —

" "\Miat nature wants has an intrinsic weight ;
All more is but the fashion of the plate."

Skewer. — This, being a pin of wood or iron, is used to


fasten meat on the spit, and give it a regular form. As long
as men have known the art of cookery, such an article is
likely to have had a place among the kitchen implements.
Though it be of minor consideration, it is still requisite to
the credit of the cook and the satisfaction of the landlady.

Skillets. — Om' dictionaries define them as being small
kettles or boilers. Of iron and brass, they have always been
common in our New England households. In one of these
we find no less than six, in 1670. Such articles, though
not of the noblest rank among the kitchen furniture, are very
acceptable to those who use them, in point of usefulness.
While they make little show, they do great good — an exam-
ple which may be always honorably imitated by intelligent

Skimmer, sometimes called Scummer. — It was from its
primitive scum, which is used by the prophet Ezekiel : " Woe
to the pot whose scum is therein." Used for taking fat and
other substances from the top of boiling or cool liquids, the
skimmer has always been among the culinary apparatus of
our households. As it is constant in its cleansing office, so
should every person be in purifying his heart from the col-
lecting faults of his passions.

Smoothing-, Flat, and Box Irons. — These are necessary
appendages to every well-regulated laundry. The last was
formed like a flat-iron, and was hollow, so that it could re-
ceive, whenever necessary, a red-hot piece of iron, suitably
made. All of them were well known to our primitive grand-
mothers, who had learned to use them in their fatherland, so
that their family clothing could bear examination, and be
truly called nice. Such employment is far from being dis-
reputable to those of their daughters who practice it ; it is a
a compliment to their correct view of female duty and of
proper independence.

Snuffers and Snuff Dishes. — Both of these are mentioned
in Exodus. The latter were for holding the former. They
were well known to our primitive fathers and mothers. To
be sure, when any of them burned pitch pine knots, snuffers
had no employment. But snuffers befriended the eyes of our



ancestors, as they have ours, with respect to the trimming of
candles and lamps. Since, however, astral, camphene, and
other lamps of new invention, have been in vogue, they have
had far less work to do than formerly. Their fearlessly cut-
ting off the excrescence which prevents the artificial light from
helping our vision, should suggest to us the duty of thus
dealing with all the preventives which keep our minds and
hearts in intellectual and spiritual darkness. Taylor refers
to them: " Against a communion day, our lamps should be
dressed, our lights snuffed^ and our religion more active."

&ofa. — This is supposed to be a word of Eastern origin.
There can be little doubt but that the thing it signifies was
anciently known in the same quarter, as of some material
and form or other. Though not mentioned in our early in-
ventories, yet the sofa was probably known then under some
such term as settee. It began to be common in our large
towns forty years ago, where it now abounds. Within eight
years, its ease has been made more easy, to a considerable
extent, by stout wire springs. The language of the world is,
Give us comfort in furniture, as well as speed by steam, and
velocity in electric communication.

Epice Boxes. — Such articles were probably known to the
ancients. We read in Kings of a traffic carried on by spice
merchants. What they so traded in was too valuable to be
kept without some safe receptacle. Part of our old invento-
ries contain spice boxes. These, of various forms and sub-
stances, have come down to our day. The aroma, which
they emit, is figurative of the beneficial influence which
should go forth from every human life.

Spinning Wheels and Cards. — These were known in
ancient times. For over a century, they were considered no
dishonor to any of our primitive families, whether rich or
poor. Such were their necessities, households of all condi-
tions were obliged to spin and weave their cotton, wool, and
flax. As their ability increased and foreign manufactures
were imported, not a few of these instruments of industry
disappeared. Still many of our families in town, and espe-
cially in country, had their hand cards, wheels, and not a few


weaving machines, as all along from the beginning. Till
down to the conclusion of our revolutionary peace of 1783,
and even ten years afterwards, the mothers and daughters of
numerous families, when they had cleared away household
matters, commenced carding, spinning, and often singing as
a cheerful accompaniment. Little, comparatively, was heard
then, as to the question, What shall we do with an hour or
two of leisure ?

Though we would not require " all work and no play," yet
we must confess, that the sight of our sisters, if not at their
distaff, still at some useful daily employment, is far more
satisfactory to us than to behold them too long at a piano,
however delighting us with strains like those of Orpheus.
Who can sound the depth of admiration with which Colla-
tinus, returning from camp without any notice, found his be-
loved wife, Lucretia, busily engaged with her maids in spin-
ning. Such industry is an indication of higher excellence
than constant devotion to light amusements.

Spit. — This, being a long iron prong, on which meat is
put to be turned before the fire, must have been known far
back in antiquity. " Domestic Life in England " says that,
prior to the invention of jacks, poor boys were hired to turn
the spit, and that they thrived on the gravy. Such an article
of cookery was among the kitchen utensils of our primitive
inhabitants. It continued to fulfil its office in all regular
families, till excluded from many of them when supplied
with cooking stoves and ranges.

«' Lest that thy wives with sjiits, and boys -with stones,
In puny battles slay me."

Spoons. — These, as concave vessels with handles, must
have been among the earliest furniture of the family board.
We read in Exodus, as to articles for the table of the taber-
nacle, " Thou shalt make the dishes and the spoons there-
of." The first settlers of our soil had spoons of wood, pew-
ter, and silver. They had others, called alchymy, which were
made of " pan-brass and arsenicum,^' or of " copper and awri-
pi^mentumy These, not considered wholesome, as chemical


science taught their effects when put in contact with other

substances, lost their popularity. The former, with those of

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Online LibraryJoseph B. (Joseph Barlow) FeltThe customs of New England → online text (page 5 of 18)