Parts of New England were graced with seeing the Northern Lights on Sunday night. We were thrilled at the prospect, for it is very dark here, but we could not see them. Houseguests are always handed a flashlight and look at us askance. However, the next morning, they comment on the complete darkness encountered.
If the evenings here are dark in these modern times, it must have been pitch black once the sun set over Mt. Race when there were no forms of electric lights. What was it like for the women that tried to stitch by waning candlelight sitting in this home?
In Home Life in Colonial Days, Alice Morse Earle includes an entire chapter–The Light of Other Days–to describe the forms of light–pine-knots and candles made from tallow, beeswax, bayberry & spermaceti. Candles need wicks and these were constructed from hemp, tow or milkweed. The long wicks were attached to a stick and repeatedly dipped in the “wax” until they were the right size. Earle states that a good worker could make 200 candles in a day.
Thomas Tusser wrote in his Directions to Housewifes:
[Tusser’s poem found on page 35 of Earle’s Home Life in Colonial Days]
“Wife, make thine own candle,
Spare penny to handle.
Provide for thy tallow ere frost cometh in,
And make thine own candle ere winter begin.”