Category : Colonial
Date : September 22, 2013

On a recent field trip to the Bidwell House Museum in Monterey, MA, I learned that the 1750 Georgian house was purchased in 1960 by Jack Hargis and David Brush.  They became the owners/caretakers of the property and over 26 years restored the house with the aid of the 1784 probate inventory of Reverend Adonijah Bidwell.

Caretakers.  It seems to me that anyone that lives in an older home is primarily a caretaker.  We pass through, while we seek to bring out the best in the house and the land.  In one sense, this seems too idealistic or romantic, for one has to live in the structure.  I don’t think that the farmers living here in the late 1800s felt this way, for the photographs passed on to us by the former owner depict a hardscrabble lifestyle, the home and barn in need of repair and the landscape appearing rather desolate.

Bidwell House, Monterey, MA

Bidwell House, Monterey, MA

While touring the Bidwell house, one travels back to when Reverend Bidwell and family inhabited the house through the stories told by the excellent guide and from the objects that Hargis and Brush collected.  They purchased period furnishings similar to the ones listed in the probate inventory and created a “still-life.” There are shelves filled with red ware and ‘treen’—small functional objects made from wood–as well as countless candlesticks lined up on the hanging shelf.   The current “caretakers”—Barbara Palmer/Executive Director, Eileen Mahoney/Administrative Manager, and Rosalia Padilla/Resident Caretaker—bring the former residents’ lives to us through the details.  When Rosalia took us through the ‘Keeping Room’—the kitchen of the day—she conjured up a scene of Ruth Kent, Bidwell’s third wife, baking bread in the beehive oven on a Monday morning. All that was missing was the smell of the bread.

These tangible “still-life dramas” are the ones that we time travellers seek out, for we long to experience and feel the days of yore.  Perhaps the vision statement from The Bidwell House Museum sums it up:Opening the past, serving the future.”   It is this unique combination of then and now that opens the door for us.

NOTE:  “Still life dramas” is from the website of the Dennis Severs house.  He transformed a London, Spitalfields 18th century house into a living entity. Severs (1948-1999) wanted the visitor to look over their shoulder, to rush quickly to the stairs, to peek behind the door trying to catch a glimpse of the family that just left the room, thus providing the ultimate time travel experience for the visitor.

Category : Colonial
Date : September 5, 2013

Field Notes…..Field Report….Field Trip


Field Notes

This summer, I had the pleasure of hearing many authors talk about their books, either in person or on the airwaves via Fieldstone Common or The New Yorker Out Loud.   A few common themes run through each talk.  Every author—Allegra Di Bonaventura, Michelle Coughlin, Jill Lepore, Eve LaPlante, Megan Marshall, and Marla Miller—worked doggedly doing meticulous research and over a very long period of time, at least ten years.  And, even though they were rigorous in pursuit of the facts needed, there was the occasional event of happenstance or luck—a packet of letters given to the author by an attendee at a talk—that often revealed a needed answer.

Field Report

With the knowledge that my research will need to be as methodical as my mentors, listed above, I headed to our local historical society this past week to begin to unravel a puzzle.  On their books, our house is listed as the “Micah Hoskins House”. Ironically, this name never appears in the list of men and women I found in the land registry documents.  Thanks to the helpful and knowledgeable historian, we tracked Hoskins via  Hoskins was born in 1735 and died in 1820, and passed through our town. Perhaps he did build this home?  More research needs to be done, much more.  And, a local cemetery might hold some clues. Furthermore, I learned that one of the landowners, Giles Andrews, also owned a general store next to the tavern down the road, and the historian thinks the transactions recorded in Andrews’ daybook/account book might uncover clues—trades, residents, lifestyles.  Probate records may reveal a host of clues and for this I will head to the records department of the County.

Field Trip

An upcoming field trip to the historic 1750 Bidwell House Museum is in the cards for me and will be most intriguing, for the house is a contemporary of ours and built in the same style–a center chimney saltbox.  Walking through the house might give us clues, and maybe answer some questions we have pertaining to both the interior configuration and exterior structure.  When restoring the Bidwell house, they were very lucky for the probate records of Reverend Adonijah Bidwell recorded his possessions room by room!  I can only hope I am as lucky with our home! Time is of the essence, for we must plan our field trip before the Bidwell house closes for the winter season.

strawberry banke aka Portsmouth, NH

Category : Colonial
Date : August 9, 2013

If one needs a bit of time traveling for the final days of summer, plan a visit to Portsmouth, NH.  I often stop by on my way up or down the coast and appreciate all of its offerings from the historic structures and sites to the contemporary art galleries.  Reference the recent “36 Hours in Portsmouth, NH” from the August 4th edition of The New York Times.

The English settled there in 1630 and named the area, on the Piscataqua River, Strawberry Banke due to multitudes of “wild berries’ ripe for the picking.  By 1653, the outpost was renamed Portsmouth, becoming an important seaport during the 1700s, and continues to be a working port to this day.

Strawberry Banke Museum is a rare treat—a time capsule— and a must see when visiting, for one truly does time travel here.  Encompassed in this ten-acre neighborhood are 42 structures, starting with buildings dating from 1695 and continuing right up until 1954. Alongside the homes and shops are gardens, so one can see four centuries of garden history as well.  Take home a package of heirloom seeds for your garden.

a place for colonial contemplation

a place for colonial contemplation

Make Discover Portsmouth your first stop, for it combines the old and new, and will give you a grounding for your time travel around the city—watch the video, visit the museum, get a map, say hello to my friend Maryellen Burke—the congenial director and she knows everything about Portsmouth—and head off to walk the cobblestone streets.   If you are planning a visit for Friday August 16th, be sure to make reservations for their Twilight Tour featuring nine historic houses around town, including Strawberry Banke.

When you are walking around, don’t miss the incredible Portsmouth Athenaeum, a membership library established in 1817.  Members have 24-hour access here, but there are hours for the public to use the research library and to see their exhibits.  The building is fascinating and the walls are covered with treasures, portraits, busts, maritime ephemera, etc.

stepping stones

Category : Colonial
Date : July 28, 2013

According to the garden historians, Rudy & Joe Favretti, “At the time of the American Revolution, about ninety-four percent of all people in this country were engaged in farming.”

“Most farmers had their farmstead, which consisted of a few acres, and then somewhere else they had their meadows, fields, and woodlots. Large scale crops, such as hay, corn, and, perhaps, even pumpkins and turnips, were grown away from the homelot, but the smaller scale crops, such as, peas, cabbages, radishes, carrots, garlic, onions, leeks, melons, herbs, and beans were planted in gardens near the house. These homelot gardens were tended by the women of the household.”

They also quote from Thomas Tusser, a sixteenth century poet:

“In March and April, from morning till night,

In sowing and setting, good housewives delight:

To have in a garden or otherlike plot,

To trim up their house and to furnish the pot.”

The Favrettis describe the logistics and layouts of the ‘homelot’ gardens for the colony homesteader.  Usually, the gardens were located nearest to the house, with the early crops being planted in the southern-facing plot to take advantage of the reflected heat in which “….the women of the house planted roses, perennials, and possibly herbs as well as fragrant annuals.”  Fruit trees provided shady places around the house and then larger orchards were established on the homestead.  Colonists were quick to adopt beekeeping:

“Bees, on the other hand, were often a feature of our early gardens. Their value as pollinators and honey producers was much appreciated.  Hence, bees were incorporated into the garden and orchard.  An elaborate skep was not always present because a hollowed log would serve as well.”

* * * * * * * * *

In our continuing gardening efforts, we have frequently uncovered stones laid in paths that start and stop, but apparently lead nowhere. We have often wondered why these stones are located where they are.  The Favrettis have answered our question:  “Stepping stone walks traversed the lawn in direct lines to the woodshed, privy and the well. In the fork of the walks leading to the privy and well was a large, flat stone on which tubs were placed for laundering. The adjoining grass area served as a drying yard.”  We are developing our theories for which functional building was located where in the early days of this property, and perhaps my research will uncover an associated journal kept by earlier inhabitants.

Time for us to plot a map and take advantage of the clues from the stepping stones.

Thanks to my colleague, Jacqueline Connell for guiding me to the Favretti’s book.

Rudy & Joe Favretti, For Every House A Garden A Guide for Reproducing Period Gardens, (University Press of New England, 1990), pp. 15, 20, 22-23, 25

old salem

Category : Colonial
Date : July 23, 2013

Salem, NC was settled in 1766 by a group of Moravians that came over from the eastern part of what is now the Czech Republic.

In 1772, Salem Academy, the first girls school in the Colonies, was established by the Moravians and was a very ‘radical idea’ at the time, for the Morravians felt girls needed the same education as boys. Elizabeth Oesterlein was one of the first teachers, a ‘single sister’ as they were called, and taught “reading, writing, music, drawing, needlework…” among other subjects. The school rapidly expanded by demand and became a boarding school in 1806. In 1866, the school was renamed the Salem Female Academy. By granting college degrees in 1890, Salem College established itself as the oldest women’s college in the Unites States, as well as the thirteenth oldest college.

Salem Academy & College

Salem Academy & College Office of the President

Both schools, Salem College and “Salem Academy“, continue to educate young women to this day and both are nestled amongst the colonial structures of “Historic Salem.” I think it would be fascinating to time travel and pursue my learning at Salem Academy with Miss Oesterlein.

homesteads & market fairs

Category : Colonial
Date : July 17, 2013

One of my favorite places to visit is The Claude Moore Colonial Farm, nestled across the Potomac River from Washington, DC.  The road on which the farm is located is just past the headquarters of the CIA, so don’t turn down the wrong driveway; instead, follow the signage and pull into the parking lot and walk down the dirt path.  Now, time travel back to 1771 and visit the no frills cabin and homestead of the Thorton Family.  They are fortunate to have a one-room cabin with a fireplace and hearth, table and chairs and sleeping loft. There are fields, gardens and orchards, perhaps a few chickens and a head or two of cattle, as well as a tobacco patch.

Quite often when one visits an historic site, it is tarted up and swept clean with all traces of daily life vanished. Not so here, and this is the best part, for one can see how a family really lived.   The family dresses, eats, works and talks as if they were in 1771.  They don’t break character when someone will ask them about modern conveniences, for they know not what they are asked about. However, they will be able to tell you when and how to harvest the tobacco, for it is a crop worth money to a colonist.

Most likely, the family will be hard at work doing the daily chores, as well as ones that are unique to a particular season.  On one of my autumn visits, the women were hard at work making flax for their clothing.  This is an incredible process, for not only do you have to grow the plants, but you then undertake the many laborious steps:  retting  (rotting the plant in water); scutching (beating stems to loosen the long fibers);  heckling (pulling the crushed stems through a large comb to separate the fibers); and then spinning into thread and finally weaving it into cloth.

Heckling Flax at Claude Moore Colonial Farm

Heckling Flax at Claude Moore Colonial Farm

We always tried to attend The Market Fair, a real treat now and even more so for the colonists, for it was a time to share wares and “catch up on the latest news from the frontier, and trade stories.” The summer fair is this weekend, so mark your calendars.

July 20 & 21, 11:00am-4:30pm

630 Georgetown Pike, McLean VA, 22101



Category : Colonial
Date : July 13, 2013

I was fortunate to hear Megan Marshall discuss the extraordinary life of correspondent Margaret Fuller at a lecture held at The Mount.  I then listened to Michelle Coughlin reveal the life of Mehetabel Chandler Coit by way of her diary, at a talk sponsored by Historic Deerfield.  This week, I look forward to Eve LaPlante sharing the lives and letters of  Marmee & Louisa again at The Mount.

Marshall and Coughlin speak of uncovering crucial facts and information not only by their shrewd scholarship and detective work but also by happenstance. Marshall revealed that an important letter from R.Waldo Emerson had been given to her by a lecture attendee, as she describes in a New York Times article. Coughlin’s step-by- step search for Mehetabel’s diary also led her to find a sixty-four page poem written by Mehetabel’s mother, which had previously been wrongly attributed.  Once Coughlin had the diary, she had to decipher the meanings of some cryptic entries.  Diaries from that era, as she pointed out, were often records of events—births, deaths, marriages & travels–and places for information, such as recipes and remedies.  This contrasts with diaries of later times where feelings were revealed on the pages.

I look forward to finding my cache of bundled letters or diary from one of the women who lived here, under-the-mountain, and call out to all of the descendants of our home’s prior owners to forward me any and all information.

Taphenes Cande

Abigail Andrews

Lucretia E Tuller

Mary A Tuller

Sarah L Gordon

Elizabeth M Noxon

Eleanora T Hayes

I will treasure this information and continue to share this home’s discoveries.


Category : Colonial
Date : July 4, 2013

Most likely from our grade school history classes, we are familiar with the Boston Tea Party and the significance of throwing the chests of tea into Boston Harbor, as a protest to taxes imposed by the British.  However, the ‘spinning bees’ held throughout the colonies are often eliminated from those history text books. The ‘daughters of liberty’ were spinning their own wool and linen, for the purpose of making their homespun to be woven and then sewn into garments.  The wearing of these garments in itself became a visible protest to the British—many colonists refused to wear clothes made from imported, taxed cloth. In her book The Age of Homespun, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich notes that “Between March 1768 and October 1770, New England newspapers reported more than sixty spinning meetings held all along the coast from Harpswell, Maine, to Huntington, Long Island.

Brece Honeycutt, detail from 'colonial dames,' mixed media on paper, 2006

Brece Honeycutt, detail from ‘colonial dames,’ mixed media on paper, 2006

Now manufacturing is largely outsourced to other countries, so our citizens can purchase countless cheap garments and other goods.  However, we can gain inspiration from a growing number of contemporary makers, thinkers and doers. The most recent newsletter from Alabama Chanin describes a modern venture to manufacture clothes on American soil:

“To do this, we want to create a manufacturing facility that will not only create an additional range of Alabama Chanin goods, but provide opportunity, knowledge, and space for other companies interested in organic, Made in the USA production. There is a dearth in the market for affordable, organic garments made in our own country. For years we have cultivated relationships with organic suppliers and, to the best of our ability, built an organic supply chain from start to finish.

Our goal is to revitalize the once-thriving garment manufacturing industry within our community while joining elements of design, manufacturing, craft, cottage industry, and DIY as a model for other manufacturers. Some may say that it is a lofty goal, but we have experienced advisors, makers, and designers at our side. The machines are here and we are in the process of getting them running.”

It is Independence Day today, and so a very good day to reflect on what it means to produce and buy American!

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, The Age of Homespun,  (Alfred A. Knopf, 2001), p. 176.  This book is a mainstay in my research.  Chapter 5—Willie-Nillie, Niddy-Noddy—thoroughly recounts and describes the “spinning bees’ and cloth production in the colonies.


Category : Colonial
Date : June 12, 2013

One of my favorite sources for all things colonial is the online journal, Common-Place, sponsored by the American Antiquarian Society.

In the most recent issue (Vol.13 no. 3, Spring 2013), the author Michelle Marchetti Coughlin outlines her hunt for a 17th century diary that resulted in her recent book, One Colonial Woman’s World The Life and Writings of Mehetabel Chandler Coit.  Coit began her diary in 1688 at the age of 14 and continued to write until her 75th year in May 1749.  Coit’s diary is “the earliest extant diary written by an American woman.”  Coughlin discovered that the diary was not organized in the typical manner—day by day—but rather thematically, for example, by recipes, births, poems, remedies.  Coughlin orders her book chronologically through Mehetabel’s life, rooting her firmly into the history of the time, giving the reader a deep understanding of colonial life in Massachusetts Bay Colony and the vibrant port city of New London, CT.

Since our roses are just beginning to bloom, and as the winds bring in blue skies, I draw from page 24 of Coit’s diary–a transcription of a poem by Mathias Casimirus Sarbiewski (1595-1640):

Child of the sumer
Ch[a]rming Rose
no longer in confinment Lie
arise to light thy form disclose
Rival the spangles of the sky
the Rains are gon
the storms are ore.
winter retires,
to make the way
com then thou swea[t]ly
blushing flower.
com lovely stranger come away
the son [sun] is Drest
in beaming smiles
to give thy beauty
to the day
yong zephyrs wait
with gentlest gales
to fan [thy] bosom as thay play

And thankfully, Historic Deerfield will hold a series of free lectures this summer—Through Her Eyes, In Her Words: The Lives and Writings of Three Colonial Women— [Garonzik Auditorium, Koch Science Center, Deerfield Academy  at 7:30 on the day of lecture, as follows]

July 11: “One Colonial Woman’s World: The Life and Writings of Mehetabel Chandler Coit,” presented by Michelle Marchetti Coughlin, Author and Independent Scholar, Hingham, MA.

July 18: “Writing Her Way to Salvation: the Role of the Pen in the Life of Elizabeth Porter Phelps,” presented by Elizabeth Pendergast Carlisle, Author, Leverett, MA.

July 25: “Re-introducing Phillis Wheatley: A Genius in Bondage,” presented by Vincent Carretta, Professor of English, University of Maryland.


Michelle Marchetti Coughlin, One Colonial Woman’s World The Life and Writings of MehetabelChandler Coit (University of Massachusetts Press, 2012), p.xvii, 205

et ux

Category : Colonial
Date : April 25, 2013

Yesterday, I ventured to the registry of deeds to trace back, with a very knowledgeable and friendly records examiner, the prior owners of our home.

In the books recording the grantees (purchasers), as well as on the deeds, we encountered the Latin phrase— “et ux”.  I asked Lynn what this meant, thinking it was an earlier form of etcetera.  In fact, et ux is the shortened version of “et uxor”, and in Latin means “and wife”.

Women struggled over centuries for property rights.  In 1848, New York enacted the Married Women’s Property Act, providing women rights to property owned before marriage.  Other states followed suit.  However, women were not allowed to manage or dispose of the property – apparently only men had the ability to conduct property transactions and so forth – and the et ux found at the end of the deeds to a large extent simply carried this limitation forward for quite a while.

I am pleased to have determined the names of some of the women that lived in this home:

Taphenes Cande

Abigail Andrews

Lucretia E Tuller

Mary A Tuller

Sarah L Gordon

Elizabeth M Noxon

Eleanora T Hayes

This list I now refer to as our home’s “et ux” group.

A half mile from our house sits a town maintained cemetery and one that I walk by daily.  Here I found Abigail Andrews.


Abigail Andrews tombstone

Abigail Andrews tombstone

citizen fire brigade

Category : Colonial
Date : April 23, 2013

Someone left an unattended brush fire at a house just up the mountain from us late yesterday afternoon.  It is burn season here, but fires must be extinguished by 4pm, so I was worried to say the least, because it can get very windy here.

My husband is a volunteer fireman and often roars out of the driveway to help put out fires, rescue mountain hikers and assist with medical calls.   This afternoon he responded to a call for out-of-control brush fire in a neighboring town that destroyed two buildings, two cords of wood, and ignited a church steeple and another roof.  When he returned home around 4:30 pm, he and I saw the smoke rising from the mountainside, so he called his fire chief, who promptly arrived and discovered two unattended brush pile fires, without a water source.  Five-gallon buckets were filled at our house and trucked up the hill.  Afterwards, the Chief said we had resorted to the old-fashioned bucket brigade.

There is a scene in John Adams where the citizens of Boston fill their leather buckets and rush out onto the frozen streets to put out a fire.  One wonders how any fires were put out with these singular buckets.

Paul Hashagan, an historian of firefighting, recounts:

Most notable among the famous Americans who helped shape the country and the fire service was Benjamin Franklin, a writer, printer, philosopher, scientist, statesman of the American Revolution – and a fireman…  In 1736, Franklin founded the Union Fire Company in Philadelphia, which became the standard for volunteer fire company organization.


Two important “tools” utilized by early American firemen were the bed key and salvage bags. With firefighting apparatus able to supply only a small stream of water, a fire that began to gain any headway was soon out of control. Arriving firemen quite often opted for immediate salvage efforts in the fire building and surrounding exposures. The bed key was a small metal tool that allowed the men to quickly disassemble the wooden frame of a bed, quite often the most valuable item owned by a family, and remove it to safety. Other household goods of any value were snatched up, placed in salvage bags and carried to safety.


The first attempt at fire insurance went bust after a devastating fire in Charlestown, MA, in 1736. Ben Franklin then organized the “Philadelphia Contributorship” to insure houses from loss by fire in 1740, a venture that was a success. The company adopted “fire marks” to be affixed to the front of the insured’s property for easy identification.


[Paul Hashagan,]


More colonial fire fighting:



Category : Colonial
Date : April 17, 2013

Credit where credit is due.

Now that the blog is live, it is time to extend some credits.  Thanks to:

Sue Gubisch for her early advice.

Round Hex for the nuts and bolts of set-up and monitoring.

Florence Altenburger for a beautifully up-to-date website since 2001.

Sharon Butler for the final nudge and encouragement to start a modern commonplace book, aka a blog.

Hats off to all of you.

Credit. Barter. Exchange.

According to Alice Morse Earle in her chapter–Colonial Neighborliness from Home Life in Colonial Days–“…there was greater interdependence with surrounding households.”  She speaks of “…every-day cooperation in log-rolling, stone-piling, stump-rolling, wall-building, house-raising, etc., —all the hard and exhausting labor of the farm.”

And, Earle continues to explain, that women and men worked together for “change-work”—chores of a smaller scale than barn-raising.  Women would visit and exchange news while making soap, apple-butter, rag carpets.  Men would often do their ‘change-work’ in the form of loading logs to be taken to the sawmill.

Who did the women of our home ‘change-work’ with?

[Alice Morse Earle, Home Life in Colonial Days, Grosset & Dunlap Publishers, New York, 1898]

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