How Hampton Citizens Lived In Colonial Times -- Part 4
- 1776 -- 1976 -
The Colonial Fireplace: Source of Heat & Light
For close to 200 years, the fireplace was one of the most important parts of the homes of Hampton families. The cooking and heating center of every home, it was also a source of light. Huge fireplaces, with massive chimneys, were found in even the simplest home of the 1600's. Homes constructed in the 1700's had fireplaces in several rooms. The earliest chimneys, made of wood and covered with clay, were soon replaced by brick chimneys, which were less hazardous. Some fireplaces were made of fieldstones and chinked with mortar. Many had a huge, hand-hewn beam as a mantle piece. The fancier homes of the late 1700's had ornate, hand-carved mantles and often the fireplace was faced with decorative tiles imported from Holland.
The fire burned constantly in the winter and much of the time in the summer. Although it was the only source of heart in the winter, its warmth would drive you right out of the house in the summer. You see, mother used it to cook for several hours each day, both in winter and summer. If the fire died out, someone would have to make a trip to a neighboring home for live coals. In later years, matches were available.
The fireplace was also the center of family life. In the evening, the entire family usually gathered around it to keep warm and have light for their work. Spinning wheels hummed busily as the women spun thread, or looms clicked as the thread was woven into cloth. Meanwhile, the men and boys mended their tools or carved new ones from wood cut in the forest. They made ax handles, plows and shovels for use in the fields, plus broomsticks, butter paddles, plates, spoons and cups for their womenfolk.
When a young man called upon his girlfriend, the two sat by the fireplace with her family. Sitting by the fire sounds romantic, but what about the privacy young people in love desire? In those days, the young couple whispered to each other through a "courting stick." This was a wooden tube about six feet long with a mouth and ear piece at each end. It may have looked funny, but it served its purpose.
So, you see, whether it was 200 or 300 years ago, indoors life in Hampton revolved around the fireplace. Without it, you couldn't eat, do your work, or keep warm when the cold winds of winter blew and snow piled up in drifts outside.
Home and Family Life in Hampton
Most of the people who lived in Hampton 200 years ago were farmers, store-keepers, clerks, seafaring men, or workmen of various sorts. The furnishings of their homes were quite plain. Some items were made by the father, but a few pieces of furniture might have been ordered from Boston. These were self reliant people who made much of what they used, including soap and candles.
There were, however, a few wealthy people in Hampton. Their homes contained more elaborate furnishes, many of which had been imported from England. The nicest homes in town belonged to such men as Dr. Hall Jackson (1739-1797), an outstanding physician and surgeon who had been educated in London, England, and to General Jonathan Moulton (1726-1787) and Colonel Christopher Toppan (1735-1818), both of whom were prominent businessmen, owners of large tracts of land, respected legislators and honored military officers.
The fireplace was the only source of heat for Colonial homes until Benjamin Franklin invented a stove. Before the family went to bed, warming pans were filled with hot coals and placed under the cold bed covers.
Clothing, cooking utensils and many other household items were hung on pegs or stored in chests. Most Hampton men made their own chests from oak boards, but some wealthy people used ornate ones imported from the European countries. Fine furniture included grandfather clocks and Windsor chairs, luxuries only the wealthiest men in Hampton could afford.
to keep out drafts.
The ordinary home contained only what furniture was necessary. They had a big table to eat upon and perhaps one or two smaller ones to place lamps and other items upon. There were some chairs, but people often sat upon the storage chests. Children often slept several to a bed. Usually, cupboards were open-shelf -- that is, they had no doors upon them. Sharing space with all the furnishings we are familiar with were the spinning wheel and weaving loom. Many homes did not even have rugs, curtains or mirrors. The ordinary house was quite crowded and little children slept in trundle beds which could be shoved under a big bed during the day.
By contrast, the homes of the rich were more spacious, but even they had no closets in those day. Some of these homes contained beautifully carved and highly waxed tables, chairs, cupboards, chests and canopied beds. Pretty pewter and glass lamps were used. A favorite piece of furniture was the settee. It had arms and a high winged back which provided protection against the drafts. Yes, even the nicest homes were chilly when you got away from the fireplace. In fact, the homes of the 200 years ago were far from comfortable.
How Soap Was Made
Every spring, enough soap was made to last a year. Wood ashes saved during the winter were put into a barrel. Water was poured through the ashes and allowed to trickle out through a hole near the bottom. This brown liquid, or "lye," was then boiled in a large kettle with fats and grease saved from the year's cooking and butchering. The mixture was cooked until it thickened slowly to form a soft, jellylike soap. Mother used this soap to wash all of the family clothes in a big wood barrel she had filled with warm water. She draped the clothes on the fences or branches of nearby trees to dry in the sun.
Wicks, made of rolled cotton, silky down from milk weeks, or tow string, were slipped over a candle rod and dipped in melted tallow. The tallow clung to the wick and hardened. The dipping continued until the candles had become thick enough. Later, tin molds were used and as many as six, eight, or more candles could be made at one time. The melted tallow was poured into the molds and then allowed to cool around the homemade wicks.
Father's work included molding bullets, making repairs to his tools, constructing furniture, whittling wooden bowls or toys and making various other items used by the family. He had to be a Jack-Of-All-Trades.