Watt’s Psalms

Remember this wonderful story from the home page of Revivie 1775?

In 1843, 91-year-old Capt. Levi Preston was asked by a young historian why he had fought in the American Revolution. Was it the Stamp Act, the Tea Act, perhaps the treatises of John Locke? “No, sirree,” the captain countered. He had not seen any stamps, sipped any tea, or read anything other than the Bible, the catechism, and Watts’s Psalms. “What we meant in going for those Redcoats was this: we always had been free, and we meant to be always free. They didn’t mean we should.”

I thought you might enjoy hearing more about Watt's Psalms.

IMAG0786  Isaac Watts was born in England in 1674 and died in 1748.  He was a popular hymn writer, considering hymns a tool for evangelization.  He was a nonconformist and thus, was not allowed to attend Anglican universities Oxford or Cambridge.

He was extremely prolific not just in hymn writing but other writings as well. 

But it's his hymns that the people of New England knew him for most.

Not only did they use Watts Psalms in their meeting house, but also in their homes.When I survey the wondrous cross

Next time you open a hymnal in church – if you go to a church that still uses hymnals, watch for Isaac Watts.

And when you sing "When I survey the wondrous cross," know that through the ages, you'll be touching Revolutionary times. 


Kindly Point Me to the Loo

I have a dear, sweet friend who is something of a throwback to an earlier, more genteel time. I don’t think she’d mind this characterization. She’s absolutely lovely. The first time I heard her excuse herself and her little girl to “use the loo” I simply smiled. It was totally in character.

And, I totally get it. I, too, am a bit of a throwback. I am not comfortable with the out-there-ness of talk of private bodily functions. I make no apologies.

The key word here is PRIVATE.

Hence the colonial privy.

As we look back on our colonial forebears and at their lack of indoor plumbing, the question arises: what did they call the loo?

History.org tells us this, “This little structure—of brick or wood, painted or unpainted, of vernacular or high-style design—was also known as a bog, boghouse, boggard, or bog-shop; a temple, a convenience, or temple of convenience; a little house, house of office, or close stool; a privy or a garde-robe, terms that descend from the Middle Ages. Or a jakes, a sixteenth-century term. Williamsburg’s St. George Tucker once defined a jakes as a garden temple.”

In later, pioneer times, it was an outhouse. In colonial times, these outhouses ranged from temporary sheds that were moved when the pit was full, to structures that were fashioned to match the house. Many homes didn’t have “a necessary” at all. This was a time of transitioning from chamber pots. Public buildings, like churches or taverns, though, did have a privy or even several out back.

And, here’s another thing that might make you squirm. Leather was tanned with urine. So many communities had great vats where urine was stored. Then pole men would come, take away the vats and sell the urine to the tanners. Ahem.

While we’re on the topic, where in heck did the term “restroom” come from? I don’t think I have ever rested in one.

Wonder how long it will take to get “skip to the loo” out of my head.

Merry Colonial Christmas – Not

   Do a Google search for “Colonial Christmas” and you’ll find that many of the historic homes are all decked out for the holidays.
    Even Mount Vernon.
   The Old Bedford Village site entices visitors to “Take a step back in time and bring your family to Bedford County and enjoy an old fashioned Colonial Christmas at Old Bedford Village. Interact with historical Pennsylvania Christmas traditions from the 1700s & 1800s.”
   Delicious aromas of hot cider and gingerbread abound and reenactors are dressed in period clothing, decorating period Christmas trees.  Stockings are hung by the chimney with care in hopes that St. Nicholas soon will be there…
   Yada, Yada, Yada.
   Except for one teensy, tiny problem.
   The Colonials didn’t celebrate Christmas for the most part.  They were Puritans and Pilgrims who wanted to cleanse the church from pagan celebrations.
In Massachusetts Bay Colony, the celebration of Christmas was outlawed – punishable with a 5 shilling fine (about $100 in todays currency.) 

For preventing disorders arising in severall places within this jurisdiceon, by reason of some still observing such ffestivalls as were superstitiously kept in other countrys, to the great dishonnor of God & offence of others, it is therefore ordered … that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by for-bearing of labour, feasting, or any other way, upon any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offence five shillings, as a fine to the county.

The first Christmas under our new Constitution (December 25, 1789) saw Congress in session.  Christmas caught on in the South before it did in the North.  The first three states to make Christmas a legal holiday were in the South: Alabama in 1836, Louisiana and Arkansas in 1838. Christmas wasn’t declared a federal holiday until June 26, 1870.    Here’s a great site if you want to learn more. 

So what does this mean for all those sweet holiday celebrations at our historic landmarks?  Revisionist History?  Maybe.  Or maybe it’s a way to entice Americans to learn a dram of history?  You decide. 

Ladies in state of “undress”

     If you’re like me, when you picture the ladies of Lexington, often you see them costumed like Ma Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie.  Obviously, there are many similarities. 
      Remember, the Colonial ladies were used to buying much of their cloth from the stores in Boston and the like.  But, when British goods were boycotted the women relearned the skills necessary to spin and weave their own cloth.  They wore homespun linen (from flax) and wool for the most part.  Print fabric was rare.  Striped fabric was a bit less rare.  But mostly they wore solid colors that they could dye themselves, blue, brown, etc.
Ladies Revolutionary War Era Clothing     What we’ll address today is “undress.”  This is the term they used for everyday work clothes.  Keep in mind that I am hardly an expert on the clothing of the 18th century and there are great sites to further your knowledge if you’re interested. 
      We’ll start with the shift.  This was the “under-est” piece of a ladies attire.  It was likely made from linen and it was a simple one-piece garment that ladies slept in and then put other pieces over in the morning.  Ladies generally had two shifts.  They would actually bathe in their shift, washing it along with themselves.  Then they would hang that shift to dry and switch to their clean one – probably for Sunday meeting.
      Pockets attached to a belt were tied on next.
      Next came stays if she wore them.  These were not to cinch in the waistline as much as to give back support. 
      Over the shift went petticoats – we would likely call them skirts.  The number of petticoats was determined by the weather.  The petticoats again tied on and left room for expansion when pregnant.  Also, slits in the sides allowed our lady to reach into her pockets.
      A “cape” or neckerchief was worn around the neck.  This was more like a large scarf tied in front.  This was worn for modesty and to protect against sunburn.
      Over the petticoats went the gown or a short-gown (like a shirt).  Some gowns were open in the front, showing off the petticoats beneath.
      All these clothes were tied on either with sashes like on an apron or with laces.  There were no buttons or zippers.  Some women held their jackets or gowns closed with straight pins. 
      Aprons might be worn as well, to protect the skirt and served for carrying, as a towel or a hotpad.
      In addition, women wore woolen stockings and shoes. They wore mopcaps, white caps that covered their hair and kept it “clean” – sometimes these were lacy and sometimes very plain.  On top of the mop caps, ladies sometimes wore silk or straw bonnets. 
If you have time, here’s a wonderful video that shows our Colonial lady puts on her layers of clothes.  It is followed by dressing her husband.


Spinning and Weaving

In 1767, in their continuing efforts to raise money from the Colonies, where the economy was in really good shape, Parliament passed the Townshend Acts, which "placed new duties on paper, paint, lead, glass, and tea that were imported into the colonies." **  The response from the Colonies should have been expected after the responses to the Sugar Act and the Stamp Act, but either Parliament didn’t concern itself with consequences or it was tone deaf to the way the tide was turning in the Colonies.

One response was the boycott of British goods being imported into America.

The result of this boycott was that American women stopped buying imported fabric, for the most part.  So, they were stuck with learning forgotten skills of their mothers and grandmothers.

And they began to spin and weave again.

Most homes had at least one spinning wheel.  Many had more than one.  They were usually kept upstairs in the "bedrooms".  Those rooms were used not only for storage but for work as well.  Spinning was one of these jobs.  My guess – and it’s only a guess – is that the spinning wheels might have been brought downstairs or even set up outside when it was too hot to work up stairs.  The wheels were not all that big and could have been easily moved.

On the other hand, looms were not an item in each home.  They were a community item.  I can picture weaving bees much like sewing bees. Weaver of Tartan © Jax Hunter

Add this work into the daily chores – cleaning, laundry, baking break, cooking, gardening and you have very busy moms.

So when you see reenactors in Revolutionary garb, remember the hands that spun the wool or flax and then wove the fabric to make all the clothes represented there.  As I’ve mentioned before, these people had little time for Revolution. 

Spring Farming

sheep-50914_150To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.  Or, as the Geneva Bible – the bible our heroes and heroines in Lexington would have read:  To all things there is an appointed time, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.

Remember, the New Englanders were all farmers.  They may have done other things as well, like Isaac Davis in Action, who was a blacksmith, or Nate Mulliken who was a clock maker.  But everyone at least had a farm to feed their family.  Lexington also supplied a good deal of milk and milk products to Boston and Cambridge.

We can even look through old tax records to see what sort of farms they had, how many acres, the types and numbers of animals they had.  It was unusual for a family to own one single parcel of land.  Usually, they owned grazing land, orchard land, woodlot land; all separate pieces in separate places.

The Estabrooks farmed for a living.  They had a lot more going on farm-wise than the Fiske family.

In 1771, the Estabrook farm was made up of 92 total acres.  They had 5 horses, 4 oxen, 8 cows, 1 pig and 9 sheep.  Only 1 voter in this household.

In 1771, the Fiske family (Joseph Fiske was the town doctor) owned a total of 64 acres.  They had 2 horses, 5 cows, 2 sheep, and 1 pig.  They had 1 house and there were 2 voters in the household.

April 1775 was a mild April.  Spring was in full swing.  The farmers were plowing their fields – which was convenient when they decided to hide firearms in the new furrows.  The sheep had just been sheared so the womenfolk, in addition to their usual chores, were cleaning wool for carding.

Everyone in the family had a job.  The toddlers played while older sibblings watched them.  Littles fed the chickens and collected eggs.  Pre-teens and teens helped moms and dads with the real work of the day.

No one really had time for a Revolution.

Whilst I was reading “April Morning”

I’ve always been hesitant to read history.  Not because I don’t love history.  I do.  And historical fiction is such a pleasant way to learn history.  But with some history – that which is awash in politics – how can you be sure that what you’re reading is accurate.  I think the best way is to get down to original sources.  But unless the author you are reading used original sources in his research, then you never know what you’re going to get.

April MorningIn an effort to immerse myself in the 18th Century, I’ve been reading what I can get my hands on.  On of those books is April Morning by Howard Fast (1961)

Last night, I came upon this:

This is a conversation between the main character’s father, Moses, and the Reverend Clarke.

“They were here tonight.”   (The Reverend speaking)
“Sam Adams and John Hancock.”
“Oh, no,” Father said. “Now what in heaven’s name were they doing here?”
The Reverend shrugged, the gesture saying better than words that these were two men with their own ways.
“Where were they?”
“At my house.”
“And now?”
“I didn’t want them here,” the Reverend said bitterly. “Would you want them here, Moses?”
“We got our troubles here.”
“So it seemed to me. I can’t understand any more how this started and the way it is building up. Who chose tonight? Ourselves? The devil? The British? No, I didn’t want them here, and I told them to go to Burlington–”
“They left?”
“About an hour ago, Moses. They have their problems and we have ours.”

I promptly closed the book and I’m not sure I’ll keep reading.  There is so much wrong with this section. I’ll just point out a few.

  • It suggests a disdain by the Reverend Clarke for Adams and Hancock, for their cause.  This could not be further from the truth.  It is said of Clarke that, if we had no writings from the Founding Fathers, but had his sermons, we would know the causes of the Revolution
  • It suggests that Adams and Hancock being at Clarke’s house was unusual.  It wasn’t.  It was a safe place out of the city.  They were there often.  Hancock had practically grown up in that house.
  • It suggests that Clarke was clueless about what was happening around him.  Again, he’d prepared Lexington so well for this night that there was no better place for the events that followed.
  • And probably the biggest problem with this “story” is that it left out Paul Revere entirely.  He arrived at the Clarke house at midnight, urging Hancock and Adams to get to safety ahead of the Redcoat Army.  And, after Revere was captured and then released, he returned to the house, found the two leaders still there.  At that point, they were convinced to leave.

So, if Fast got this wrong, how much other stuff is wrong that I won’t recognize?  How much will the unsuspecting reader take in and assume is fact?  How do we find books we can trust?

Well, I hope mine will be trustworthy.  There will be fiction wrapped around fact in my books.  There has to be.  But I will do my best to present the fiction as reliable.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.


Grab the Tar and Feathers


Retribution; – tarring and feathering; – or – the patriots revenge by James Gillray

Recently I watched the mini-series John Adams.  I was enthralled with seeing the locations and people that have become so important in my life.  (Yes, I know these were not the “real” people.  But that didn’t change my reaction to seeing them.)

One of the most dramatic moments in this series included Sam Adams and John Adams watching as a Loyalist was tarred and feathered.  In the scene, Sam was almost jubilant while John was aghast at the violence of the torture.  Quite frankly, I was shocked to see them strip the man naked before the crowd and pour burning, black tar down his body.  The man screamed in agony.  Then, they emptied bags of feathers all over him and rode him on a rail.  It was horrible to watch.

But, was it accurate?  Or was it just a bit of propaganda?  (I’m always leery seeing how Hollywood portrays History.)

Well, apparently it wasn’t altogether accurate.  I have since learned that our modern tar – what they use on the roads – black and blistering hot – was not the same tar they used for this punishment.  The tar they used was pine tar.  Though it was hot enough to burn, it rarely did enough damage to mention.  It was mostly hot and sticky.  Perfect for sticking the feathers to.  Often, they didn’t even strip the offender before putting the tar on him; they just put it over his cloths.  And most often, they applied it with a mop, further cooling it before it hit skin.

There are a few historical accounts in which the tar left marks.  But those were the exception rather than the rule.  This “torture” was done more for humiliation than for inflicting pain.  Here’s a link to more information.

An now, as Paul Harvey would say, you know the rest of the story.







Doctoring in 1775

Doctoring in 1775 was at the beginning of a crossroads that would take it from the apprentice model to the med school model.  The first medical school in America was started in Philadelphia in 1768.  Two years later another opened in New York. These schools only took a handful of students each year.  The programs were ten years in length and, when finished, the nehttp://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/nave-html/S10/imgsum/9276medinstrum.jpgw doctor would have a lot of book knowledge and theory but would never have seen an actual patient.

The vast majority of doctors in 1775 and especially outside of Philadelphia, New York, Boston and Charleston, learned their doctoring skills in a seven year apprenticeship program.  They would have learned about some herbs, about leeches, about “bleeding” your patient, and very little about cleanliness.

Moms were the doctors in the family.  They rarely called a doctor.  And babies were born with midwives, not doctors.  As a matter of fact, midwives could have taught doctors a great deal about cleanliness though no one at the time had heard about germs and infection.

During the Revolutionary war, generally every unit had it’s own surgeon.  Surgery was itself in it’s infancy but knowledge and practice grew immensely with all the experience surgeons got during the war.  Before the war, the common surgical practice did not include any cutting into the patient as it nearly always ended badly.  They mostly dressed wounds and hoped for the best.  Amputations were rare.  That all changed during the war.

The unit surgeon was also responsible for treating the illnesses that plagued the troops:  dysentery, fever, and smallpox.  The major cause for disease in the camps, of course, was the unsanitary conditions.  And as the war went on, doctors learned a great deal about how to combat these.

The two doctors names that we’ll hear most often in connection with April 19th are Dr. Joseph Warren, who was responsible for sending out Revere and Dawes and Dr. Samuel Prescott who was the messenger that actually made it to Concord to warn of the impending Redcoat attack.  More on each of these amazing men is to come in future blog posts.  Just a quick note on Dr. Prescott.  He was twenty-four years old on April 19th.  He had not only completed his apprenticeship under his father in Concord, but already had an established practice.

By the way, in 1776, the Declaration of Independence was signed by four doctors.

  • Josiah Bartlett of New Hampshire
  • Lyman Hall of Georgia
  • Benjamin Rush of Pennsylvania
  • Matthew Thornton of New Hampshire


Puritan Weddings

WeddingMy first book in the Revive 1775 series will revolve around a wedding. I don’t want to give anything away at the moment but what I’ve found out about Puritans and their wedding rituals surprised me and changed things in the plan for the book.

When we 21st-Century Americans think about weddings, we have so many preconceived notions.  I’m no different.  I think about flowers and rings, the minister, the church, the wedding cake.  Then there’s the wedding party.  The bride and groom of course.  But the father of the bride giving her away.  The maid of honor.  The best man. But what I’m finding is that the Puritan wedding didn’t look like that.

The Puritans, if you remember, broke away from the Church of England.  One of the sticking points was the wedding.  Who knew?  Puritans believed that marriage was a civil contract.  Weddings, as such, were performed by the magistrate, who asked each party if they wanted to enter the contract.  If both answered in the affirmative, the deal was done.  This "ceremony" was carried out at the house and there was a modest meal served.  Nothing elaborate.  These were Puritans, remember.

The engagement actually did involve the church though.  When the engagement was announced, it was done so in church and the Rector would give a special sermon of the bride’s choosing.  Then, in the weeks preceeding the marriage contract, the bans were published.  The bans were basically a "if you know any reason" type document announcing the upcoming contract and was published on the church door.  It had to be done three weeks in a row. As I do more research, I’ll share other interesting tid-bits here with you all.  I know a few bits already that you’ll find surprising.