A while ago a client brought me historic letters for me to evaluate. Mixed in with major historic figures was this humble 1802 letter. Our nation was very young, this unknown mother describes the day to day life in 1802 as she tries to imagine what the nation, the world will be like in 1902, a hundred years in the future.
Out of multiple historic letters, I think this letter is priceless and have my client’s permission to share it with you. It is a bit long, but the insights are very worth the read, and the last paragraph sums up this capsule in time.
November 23, 1802 – Walton, NY
My dear child,
When father prayed this morning at family worship for our children – and for all who shall come after us – a strange impulse took possession of me. We have our seven children, sturdy healthy ones and as I looked with pride on them as they sat between father and me in the pew at the meeting house today – I thought again of father’s prayer for “all who shall come after us”. The children’s children – of their red cheeked boys and girls that father has asked God’ s blessing upon-
And on this quiet Sabbath afternoon, while they learned their psalms and catechisms, the thought of those that are afar off has dwelt in my mind. Who are they, what are they, I never doubt they will be God’s loving children for has not that prayer been made daily for many years to Him who promises to hear. I took up Stephen’s Geography, I’m turning the leaves, I find on one of the maps – the great unknown country to the far west of us, named in his book – as “Great American Desert.”
It pleases my mood to think that some of our far away descendants may in time find a fruitful land there and build homes – like ours only better – and that great inventions for transportation and travel – for improvements in building and home making shall make our life here seem, strange to them. So in thinking on all this through the day – I have resolved to write a letter to some child of 1902 – to tell of this home and our work, our dress, and if not too long an epistle, of our customs.
This being the evening of the Sabbath ended, we do not undertake any heavy work. Sabbath you know beginning on Saturday at sundown when an early supper – early chore time – gives excellent opportunity for rest and for preparing for the Sabbath. So when we are ready to listen to Reverend Hendly’s long sermon we are not too weary and sleep as those do who work late Saturday evening.
Our home father built two years ago it stands on a knoll near a fine spring at the head of one of the branches of the Delaware river. It’s well built, of heavy timbers and father says is good for a hundred years. It is about 38 by 40 ft, has a cellar and the whole building. In the middle is a stone chimney. It is about 12 ft square in the cellar and is built of stone from the fields. There is a fire place in the cellar where one may put on a big iron kettle for soap making or to cook potatoes for the pigs, when milk or grain shall failin the winter. The house face South with a hall in the middle.
An east and a west room faces south, each about 18 ft square, each with a fireplace and mantel. On the north side is the living room which is nearly 30 ft long and the buttery and small bedroom at the end. In the middle of one side of this large room is the great fireplace and the brick oven built by the chimney. This fireplace is conveniently arranged with a crane and swinging hooks where I do my cooking. The big brick oven is a great convenience. On baking day a fire is made in the great fireplace and allowed to make a bed of coals.
The pul (sic) easily transfers this glowing mass into the oven, the iron door is closed and hooked and the fireboard put in place. When the oven is heated the coals are returned to the fireplace and the oven nicely swept with a birch splint broom. Then everything goes in! First, at the back of the oven a great pot of pork and beans, then bread and pies and pound cake (what would Yankee’s do without pies). This last only on great occasions, sometimes a turkey or two or a nice little pig, a leg of mutton or veal. The pot of pork and beans is always left in over night and will be warm for Sunday dinner. We have a small tin oven which we place on the hearth before the fire in case we wish to bake a batch of biscuits or a couple of pies. This we call a dutch oven.
The fireplaces each have a hearth made of a single stone smooth and large. The children love to sit around these on a winter evening an crack nuts, while the elders sit on the settles on either side. This great room is not plastered or ceiled overhead. Instead the big timbers are painted red. Running along one of these timbers is the baby jumper, a long slender sapling fastened at the trunk end with screws. From the other end dangles a strap, a hoop and a little harness. When the youngest who cannot yet walk may be fastened and by touching her little feet on the floor springs and her weight springing her again.
The other rooms have either white plastered walls or are ceiled. The parlor has flag bottomed chairs – a mahogany drop leaf table with a linen cover upon which are a few books, shells and other ornaments. On the mantel a pair of silver candlesticks, a pair of brass snuffers in a tray. Between the front window a room with a picture in the upper section. The east room has a tester bed, a large cherry bureau, a table for sewing and knitting work and the big and little spinning wheels are here and the big clock.
In the big room is a great drop leaf table and another one can be placed by the side of it if we have a large company. Near the fireplace is a small stand upon which is the family bible, the hymn and psalm book and room for candle and snuffers. In the second story are five rooms and the open chamber where stands the loom – near the west window. The garrett is over all and then on great beams and pegs in the rafters are hung clothing – my old saddle and many things out of use. Here is a good play room for the children on rainy days and I use it for clothes drying in stormy days in winter. The dairy house is a few feet from the dwelling. The well with a stone circle. The water is easily lifted with a sweep.
Close to the dairy house is the shed where father and the boys make the flax ready for use, there stands the brake, the swingling and block and knives, the hatchets. In the east room – by the kitchen fireplace the flax is spun into thread. By the spring in the little brook it is rinsed and bleached, then father weaves.
The women of our church once in the fall meet together at the minister’s house with our wheels and flax prepared for a spinning match. A dinner is furnished and at sunset we return to our homes – after presenting our minister’s wife with fruit of the day’s labor. He preaches a sermon to us in the afternoon as we spin. This fall the text was Ex 30:25 “And all the women that were wise hearted did spin with their hands.”
The family can be each employed in the preparation of wool. Since the great invention of the carding mill we are relieved of that part of the work. Still if I wish any yarn particularly fine I must confess I prefer to card the rolls myself. Hannah (my oldest daughter) and I do all the spinning. The twins Cynthia and Sophia reel and double the yarn and Ruth makes the old quill wheel hum as she fills the quills for the loom. The boys whittle loom spools and shuttles. We dye the wool with Indigo – with cochineal and yarn for knitting stockings – mittens, tippets – poland boots – hoods, yarn for weaving flannel for underwear and dresses, pulled cloth that only Father and the boys can weave and pull andteazel and tint. Then its ready for the making into warm suits.
We are all busy and all happy. If in a hundred years there shall be as great improvement in every department of domestic life I should be filled with amazement could I see how you of 1902 shall be situated. How you shall build your houses, How you shall travel – How you shall proved for your families and be employed. What you will be doing to make your lives richer and the world better.