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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Every Day Living In The New Country Was Challenging And Strenuous

Dallas Bogan on 18 September 2004
original article by Dallas Bogan
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

I trust a good deal to common fame, as we all must.
If a man has good corn, or wood, or boards, or pigs,
to sell, or can make better chairs or knives, crucibles
or church organs, than anybody else, you will find a broad
hard-beaten road to his house, though it be in the woods.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Farmers worked their places with much harder labor than at present. They rarely hired any help, except at harvest. The pioneer, with his wife and children, toiled on year after year with little assistance.
One Champaign County pioneer wrote of the younger lad's part in breaking into the labor market. He writes:
"The boys were required to do their share of the hard labor of clearing up the farm, for at the time the country now under the plow was in every direction heavily timbered or covered with a dense thicket of hazel and young timber.
"Our visits were made with ox teams, and we walked or rode on horseback or in wagons to meeting. The boys pulled broke and hackled flax, wore two shirts and indulged aristocratic feelings in fringed hunting-shirts and coon-skin caps; picked and carded wool by hand, and spooled and quilled yarn for the weaving till the back ached."
There was usually a cow or two on the farm and the duty of milking and making butter fell upon the wife. So did that of making cloth. The husband made the shoes, except at the time when some wandering shoemaker sought shelter and a few days' work.
A clock was too expensive a thing to have; crude sundials answered every purpose on bright days, and on dark days they guessed as to the hour. The crockery was homely yellow ware, and was often shaped out by pewter and wooden dishes. Fine queens ware and china were not to be seen.
It was a difficult thing, even after a family had some money, to get luxuries. Public sentiment frowned upon them as pretentious.
The chairs and tables were at the beginning made with the sturdy hands of the farmer himself. The beds were built in the house with narrow strips of deer hide or coarse ropes being extended across from side to side, to give the structure elasticity. Over this was a tick filled with oat-straw, and the high structure was surmounted by a feather-bed, loved by all who were brought up to know it's soft embraces.
Last of all were the sheets of linen, woven at home, and a counterpane (quilt or coverlet) carefully joined together from a multitude of different patterns of cloth, a true housewife's delight.
If there was a cradle, it was made by some handyman in the neighborhood.
Taxes were a burdensome act against the pioneer, not because they were so high, but because he had so little money to pay them with. Dr. Seybert, in his "Annals of the United States" more than a century and one-half ago, wrote of the taxes placed upon the citizen. He stated "The beardless youth manages his taxed horse with a taxed bridle on a taxed road."
Most settlers arrived in the wilderness of the Ohio country with no specie, nor any way to obtain it. Ordinarily they arrived in the forests with scarcely the bare necessities of a primitive life. The small amount of money in circulation was confined almost exclusively to the centers of trade.
Spanish milled dollars, divided into halves or quarters, constituted what was called "cut money." It was so prepared in this way for the purpose of making change, as but a small amount of fractional money was to be obtained, and not enough to supply the demand.
The early settlers were generally a rough, hardy set, and their social gatherings were often marred by fisti-cuffs. They seldom ever visited each other simply for the purpose of a social call as is the practice of today.
The ladies took with them their knitting and sewing, or went with the expectation of quilting or cutting apples, or in some way helping a neighbor through the great mass of work. At the same time they would cultivate social and friendly relations.
Store clothes of broadcloth or doeskin were rarely seen on the young men, and when worn were considered an evidence of vanity or else a sure indication of pondering matrimony.
A common garment for men's wear was the hunting shirt, or frock, which came nearly down to the knees, and was wide enough to lap over a foot upon the chest. A cape was generally worn, sometimes fringed with a piece of raveled cloth of a different color from the rest of the garments. This shirt was always worn belted, and the chest area of it afforded a convenient container for the hunter's various articles.
Breeches were made of heavy cloth or of deerskin, customarily with leggings of similar material. The deerskin trousers when dry were very comfortable, but being soaked with rain they became almost as stiff as boards.
Sunday was the one-day when the young ladies made a social visit. They especially wanted something nice, just as they do today. The young pioneer lady sprang up into womanhood with such great haste. Attractiveness then, as now, was a guiding determination for this damsel of youth.
The ever-so-common flax patch always grew on the side next to the woods. Its slender and delicate chutes were ever so carefully pulled by the girls and kept by itself to make finery of. The stronger growth did well enough for clothing for the men, and wrap for the linsey-woolsey, and even every-day dresses for the women.
The fine flax was carefully pulled, rotted, broken, scuthed, hackled, spun and accurately dyed in divers colors, and painstakingly woven into cross-barred figures. With an expertly finished product, the country beauty, with her garment of snow- white homespun linen and her white slippers, was a beacon of light for her admirers.
Makeup was not a necessity for she glowed with the brilliance of the open air. A homemade bonnet gave her cheek a pure healthful glow, and to her eyes, the brightness of her youth.
Her white slippers were fashioned of finery. Her brother, a friend, or perhaps a lover, possibly supplied her with the skins of some fine squirrels. She would tan the skins herself in a sugar-trough, and then have them done up at a considerable expense and trouble to wear on Sundays and special occasions.
Slippers were used initially to walk many miles back and forth to church, or possibly to some other occasion. Since walking through the mud these many miles would take its toll on the footwear, a way of preserving the slippers was to walk bare- footed to the proposed destination, slip into the nearest woods, and then put on the precious shoes.
Linen for the Sunday clothes was made of copperas (a green crystalline compound used in dyeing) and was white, checked or striped, and when bleached was very pretty and soft. Linsey- woolsey, or linsey, was composed of cotton and wool, and was considered harsh and not finished.
Dye-stuffs in early times were butternut or walnut hulls colored brown; oak bark with copperas dyed black; hickory bark or the blossoms of the golden rod made yellow, red and indigo blue. First coloring the garment yellow and then dipping into a vat of blue dye obtained Green.
The little tub of blue dye, with close-fitting cover, stood in the heated corner in every household, and with the cover always worn smooth, made a very convenient seat. Many a suitor inclined to matrimony has sneaked skillfully along and seated himself on the dye-tub, waiting impatiently for the older folks to retire.
For very choice stockings, strips of corn husks were lapped tightly in two or three places around a skein of yarn and dyed blue. When the husks were removed, whitish spots were found, and the rare clouded yarn was the result.
In everything the pioneers were conservative, and they made the best of such advantages as circumstances furnished.
These pioneers found nothing in the form of a civilized land when they first arrived. Many items were left in their former homes in the East, so they placed reliance on their ingenuity to invent what they needed. With hard work, perseverance and a will to survive, they adapted, succeeded, and made the Miami Valley what it is today.

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This page created 18 September 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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