Transcribed by Elsie Sampson
June 17, 1954
* CAL’S COLUMN *
We continue with the publication of the record of the sale of the personal property of Nathaniel Brittain, in the year 1806. The items sold, their purchasers and the price paid for same are in quotation marks.
“Widow Brittain, one wheel, $1.50.” The widow Brittain is presumed to have been Mrs. Nathaniel Brittain. The wheel, we suppose, was a spinning wheel, which was to be found in practically every pioneer home. It could have been a flax wheel, however. The old spinning wheel calls back a lot of memories. Our mother was quite an expert “spinner,” one of the few things that required some mechanical skill that she did well. We can still hear, as it were, the “Zoom! zoom!” of the spinning wheel of 50 years ago or more. Women of that day and time had a lot more work to do than the average young woman of today. In addition to cooking and general housework, the wife and mother had to spin the thread, weave the cloth and make practically all the garments worn by all the members of the family. The dyeing, cutting and fitting and sewing of the garments had to be done at home and much of the work was done by hand.
Then many of the wives of 150 years ago were the mothers of a dozen or even more sons and daughters. In spite of this large number of children and the unusually large amount of work enjoined on the average wife and mother, many of these good women of seven score and more years ago, found time to visit, to render help to the sick and to engage in many forms of aid to the less fortunate.
Our own mother had ten children. Our father was one of twelve children. Our father’s mother, was one of fourteen children, ten daughters and four sons. Of these, all married except Gabriel Gregory, who volunteered for the War with Mexico and died of disease somewhere in Mexico. The 13 who married became the parents of 142 children, an average of almost 11 children to each of them.
In that day and time, there was but little laziness known. Every child had to do his part and there was but little shirking. It meant that fathers and mothers brought up their children to work, to be industrious, to do their part, to help each other and to be of value to others in later life. Today, our children want to sleep late each morning. They are selfish and lazy in so many instances that we think an industrious child is the exception rather than the rule. If all the members of the human family today did their part, the load would be immeasureably lighter on those who do the work today. As it is, about half of the people work and the other half are living off the labors of somebody else. When all who are able to work do their part, the burdens of life are distributed among those who ought to work. By this means, children are not brought up in idleness and as chiselers and ultimately to be “parasites” living off the labor of the industrious. On the other hand, when a child is brought up as they were 150 years ago, they develop self-reliance, industry, and a sense of fair play which makes one willing and even anxious to do his part.
“James Finch, one iron pot, $5.91.” We have no member of the Finch family now living in Smith County. We have no idea who James Finch was, nor where he lived. He purchased an iron pot for $5.91, which was quite a lot of money for 148 years ago. Land could be bought for 40 cents an acre or even less. So, one kettle or pot was worth ten acres of land or more. The pot of a long time ago was one of the most useful of all kitchen utensils. Aluminum was unknown and most of the cooking vessels of the present day and time were entirely unheard of. So the pot was extremely useful. In the pot was placed all of the boiled foods 150 years ago. Stoves were unknown, electricity was undreamed of, and only the most primitive of cooking utensils could be found. The pot or kettle was filled with water, beans, peas, or other vegetables, with a chunk of meat for seasoning, and then hanged over the fire. The aroma that rose from that boiling pot still lives in our memory of 50 years ago. Surely there is no food as good today as that cooked slowly over a wood fire half a century ago. The beans that our mother used to cook for her hungry brood were far better than the “pinto” and white beans of today. We wonder if the kind of vessel in which they were cooked had anything to do with the extra fine flavor then, have we grown old and our appetites have become dulled.
Once we heard of a young man who went courting on Sunday. The story is that the young lady insisted that her “fellow” stay for Sunday dinner. He thought that he had never seen a person with such fine table manners as the young lady lifted to her lips only one bean at a time. He had a “rude awakening” shortly after the noon hour, when he had occasion to pass the kitchen door. He was much surprised and his idea of the nice table manners of the sweetheart had a set back. For the girl who had eaten only one bean at a time at the table was in the kitchen and was reaching into an old iron kettle and taking out with her hand. Then, she would raise them to her lips by the handful and she “gobbled” down the food without a thought as to manners or fine ways, and was satisfying her hunger in the primitive manner of eating with her hands.
“James Nowling, one dish and five plates, $4.00.” We have no idea as to who James Nowling was as there is no member of the family of that name now living in Smith County. As scarce as money was 148 years ago the price for the dish and five plates seems to be very high. Six plates make up a set, and so he bought a broken set of plates. Many of the plates of 150 years ago were of pewter and it is possible that the five plates were of that kind. We recall that our good friend, Haskell Kemp, now dead, the father of Mrs. E. J. Cassetty of Route 1, Difficult; and of Mrs. Jim Woodard of Route 1, Hartsville, was once selling a lot of household and kitchen goods. We saw him pick up a dish that had a rather large piece broken out of one side of the dish. He placed his hand over the broken plate and said, “What do I hear for this good dish?” We had a lot of fun out of Uncle Haskell, as we called him. So we said, “Uncle Haskell, move your hand.” Quick as a flash, he came out with, “Shut your mouth.”
Uncle Haskell has been gone for a number of years and we miss him as we have missed but few men. We had as much fun out of him as any man we ever knew. God bless the memory of our happy years together and grant that some day our association may be renewed in a better and happier land.
Many of our older readers will recall how the old dishes turned a sort of yellow color on account of “soaking up” a lot of grease and also changed color from long use. We recall some of the old dishes of 55 years ago in our father’s little home. We have eaten from them more times than we can recall. One dish that will always live in fond memory was the old fashioned glass butter dish, which had a top or piece to use in removing the cover from the dish. The thing that lingers so clearly in our little mind was the “hand” that grasped a “glass stick” at the top of the butter dish. We would give ten times the worth of that old butter dish if we could buy it today. But it went out of the family at our father’s sale and we feel sure that it has long since been broken.
“Gusty Gunter, one halter chain, $1.31.” We have no idea as to who Gusty Gunter was nor do we recall having ever before seen the name “Gusty” although we admit that perhaps this might have been the appropriate name for “Cal.” And we have seen a lot of other preachers who might have been called “Gusty.” A halter chain was used in connection with leading a horse or mule. Some mules and horses chewed leather and a halter chain was about the only kind of lead that could be used on such an animal.
“Widow Brittain, one jug, 33 1/2 cents.” We would suppose this was of old-fashioned earthenware and we have drunk from such receptacles thousands of times. In fact, the old jugs of a long time ago were all earthenware, glass jugs being unknown until comparatively recent times. “The Little Brown Jug,” a tune of the years gone by, is still remembered by many of our readers. Perhaps the favorite receptacle for carrying water to the fields in our boyhood was a gallon keg. We still remember how cool the water was as used to drink from the old keg with its mouthpiece apparently of lead or some other soft metal.
In the years gone by when the controversy between the immersionists and the “pourers” or “sprinklers” raged hot and heavy, a tale was told how that a preacher who was of the pouring group,” was reading publicly the account of the Ethiopian Eunuch, with some comment. When he came down to his baptism, this preacher stated that the chariot was stopped and Phillip reached back into the chariot and got a jug and baptized the eunuch. One black man remarked aloud, “What a big jug! Big enough for two men to go down into it at once.”
“David Gurley, one pair of dog irons, $7.50.” There are no members of the Gurley family found at this time in Smith County. And we may add that in all of our reading, we do not recall ever having seen that name before we found it in the old records of Smith County, Tenn. A pair of dog irons means a pair of the fire dogs or andirons that supported the wood and kept it above the ashes. Our father had a pair of heavy fire dogs that he used from the earliest of our recollection. They were still in good shape at the sale of our late father’s personal property on Feb. 15, 1915.
“John Osborne, one flat iron, $1.10.” We have no record of John Osborne, although the surname, Osborne, is familiar. A flat iron was used by women and girls to do their ironing 150 years ago. It was sometimes called a sad iron, probably from heavy iron. Ironing used to be much more of a burden than it is today when the electric iron is used. We recall the first irons we ever saw were the kind made in blacksmith shops. The handle was on a line with the bottom of the iron, so the iron would sit upright in front of the fire and get hot. We still recall how those ironing would dampen a finger and listen to the hissing sound the iron made when touched with the wet finger. By this means, women and girls could tell if the iron was hot enough.
Next there came into use a “core” or center part of iron that fitted into the ironing shell. This core was heated in a grate wherein coal was the fuel used. Then there came the gasoline variety with a small container for the fuel over the front end of the iron. The writer has had a lot of experience in lighting up the gasoline iron and trying to keep it in operating order. Its advantages were that this kind of iron did not heat the room in hot weather as did the grate or open fireplace; and also permitted the “ironer” to continue the work without running back and forth to get a hot iron.
In the years gone by when the writer lived in the Tom Smith Hollow, near Piper’s School House where we taught in 1915-16, we recall that we had an old-fashioned kitchen that stood about 30 feet from the main dwelling house, called by many, “the big house.” The wife of our youth was engaged in doing some ironing at the same time supper was being cooked. The stove on which the irons were being heated, was very hot, the writer being a good provider of stovewood 40 years ago. We went down to eat our supper and got the wash pan and went outside the old kitchen to the wash block, which was a block of wood standing upright on one end. We did not know why an iron should be found on the wash block. We took hold of it to remove it and it burned our finger till the skin came off. Our temper got away from us and we “raised Cain.” We also grabbed a stick and thrust it through the handle of that iron and threw it as far as we could, which was no great distance. Our wife did not help matters when she tried to shame Gregory for letting his temper get roused. It took an hour or more for the writer to get back to normal. He did not use any profanity, but he was very angry.
“William Smith, one dictionary, $4.90.” This is the same man mentioned in the third item of the sale and is believed to have been one of the ancestors of Houston Smith and Oscar Smith. We wonder what kind of a dictionary that was. This was long before the day of Webster’s Dictionary.
“Widow Brittain, one bed and furniture, $10.12 1/2.” Just how much was included in a bed and furniture, we confess we do not know. It appears that the bedstead was not included, for the same woman bought as the next item offered for sale, a bedstead for 25 cents. We would judge that a bed and furniture, most probably included: One feather bed, a straw tick, mattresses being unknown then; sheets, quilts, and a bedspread, and two pillows. If any reader of the Times can give us additional information, your help will be appreciated. It might have possibly included the little bed that slid under the old fashioned high bed, called a trundle bed, and earlier called in England, a truckle bed. We have slept on a trundle bed, but it was in our early life, more than 55 years ago.
“Charles F. Mabias, five barrels of corn, $8.75.” This was at the rate of $1.75 per bushel. Charles F. Mabias was the first coroner of Smith County, if our memory serves us aright. The name is peculiar in a way, although there was a man named Mabies who lived in Wilson County more than 100 years ago. Charles F. is said to have lived at the present Johnson Gregory home on the extreme upper part of the stream called Dixon’s Lick Creek. Mabias was quite favorably known in the long ago.
We are informed that the old Brittain Cemetery is located near the present home of Jim Tom Cunningham, about four miles East of Hartsville. If this is correct and we do not doubt its authenticity, then the present Jim Tom Cunningham farm is part of the old Brittain Farm and the sale above recorded took place there in 1806 or else the latter part of 1805. We are also informed that the present Burnley farm, at the East end of the Donoho Bridge, and just South of the present Linville’s Shop, was part of the Samuel Caruthers farm. We were in doubt for some time as to whether the Brittains lived at the present Cunningham place or at the present Burnley place. We are glad to have this information given us by Mrs. Rhea E. Garrett of Dixon Springs, who is perhaps the greatest genealogist living in Smith County today.
We hope to finish the record of the sale of Nathaniel Brittain personal property at an early date.