17th Century Child-Rearing: It’s A Hard-Knock Life

Here at Pennsbury Manor have just finished our annual Colonial Summer Camp, and boy did they have fun!

This summer camp features a number of activities that were common to the colonial period and give our campers a feel of just what is was really like to live nearly 300 years ago. At the end of the week, the campers get to give their friends and family guided tours  in period clothing. In conjunction with the camp it only seems appropriate to elaborate on children’s lives.  Expectations and philosophies on how to raise a colonial child  from our views today.

A young boy gets water from the cistern to fill the kettles for doing laundry.

Child rearing throughout the 17th century rooted itself in rather different soil than it does today. Growing up in 17th century England or Colonial America, it sure wasn’t all fun and games. This is the case unless of course you were born into an elite family and then perhaps the rules could change, however; most were not this privileged.

Children in colonial families were numerous and averaged between seven to ten in each household. The number of children at home varied, however, for a variety of reasons. The most common of these being (sadly) early death; roughly half of the off-spring would not reach maturity.  They were also apprenticed out, or having started a family of their own. For William Penn, the first and last of these were the cause of his small family in home, particularly while in Pennsylvania.  Nevertheless, before the children left the house, they were instilled with fundamental morals and an understanding of one’s actions. “Colonial children were initiated into the adult world early, but not in a hasty or harsh manner.”  When a Quaker child reached the age of reason, they were thought to understand that they were sinners and capable of sinning.  This age was typically between 4 and 8, usually being marked by the start of school; for boys, this was also the age where they stopped wearing petticoats.  Parents were advised to “govern, counsel, and correct as soon as they could understand what they were being corrected for and knew what they should say and do.”  This varied with the belief of other religions, such as Catholicism, which deems the child born with original sin and not innocent until it was removed with the sacrament of Baptism.  Furthermore, the Quaker hand in the raising of children was sufficiently stricter than in other religions. Parents were conscientious to lead by example, especially to be “…careful of actions in the presence of children, for they have very quick eyes and ears.”

A colonial mother and her children on the estate.

What may seem harsh about some of these practices is in reality a matter of practicality and necessity. All members of the family had their own role to play.  Their contribution preserved the family’s welfare.  The entire family would work together, educate each other, and keep food on the table.  Young children were given chores to suit their strength and ability, not just out of need and to teach discipline, but to keep them from underfoot.  Nonetheless, it is also fair to note that the trust placed in young children early on would likely horrify modern parents. For example, colonial parents left unsupervised 8 year olds with guns, carrying large pals to retrieve water from rivers/wells, and facing wild animals to defend a heard of sheep. 

Still, we must remember that these factors do not lessen the affection colonial parents had for their children. Surely the most important lessons to be learned were to be “loved but not pampered” and to be shown “tenderness but not softness”. We have enough remnants of their world to know of  the“great love” and  “nurtur[ing]” nature of parents, and the surprise toy or whistle from a father when he returned from town. Resultantly, not only did 17th century children learn practical lessons, but so too did they learn of love and compassion in these small, thoughtful gestures.

 Written by Mary Barbagallo, Intern

Edited by Hannah Howard

Sources/Further Reading:

Everyday Life in Early America, David Freeman Hawke, Harper and Row, Publishers, Inc. 1988,  New York, NY.

The Quaker Family in Colonial America, J. William Frost, St. Martin’s Press, Inc. 1973, New York, NY.

William’s World: To Butter and Beyond

 Just as in the time of William Penn, the work was never done, and so too do we find our fourth post in regards to Dairying! 

Our first posts covered the business of being a milk-maid, the history of dairying and cheese-making .  Now let’s take a look at the importance of cream and butter, which held an important place at the table long before cheese was acceptable to anyone but “common folk.”

In these aristocratic households, their status and wealth meant their butter was made purely of cream. In addition, cream was used in pasties, dressings for meat, and custards.

The butter itself took on a purpose all its own in a number of different forms.  Initially, butter was acceptable for children and the old, but not middle-aged gentlemen of higher stature like William Penn. Even the most basic thoughts for butter (such as being spread on bread) were something that came from Flemish practices, who were influenced by the Dutch on this matter.  Eventually it became common practice for the English toward the late 16th– to early 17th-century.

Still Life with Glass, Cheese, Butter and Cake, Floris Gerritsz. van Schooten, mid-17th century

The trend eventually went away from butter as a hard spread; as butter began to be melted and poured over vegetables, it became more prominent at the dinner table. Melted butter was also used for sauces of fish, meat, and other main dish delicacies.  Moreover, it became an important element of preserving food, which was always important in regards to ensuring enough sustenance for the winter months. “Butter was used lavishly to seal the cooked food from contact with the air, and, in order to ensure that no cracks appeared in the sealing, many pounds of  butter were used in large households”.  “The improved arts of preserving food also involved another use for butter, by filling pies after they had been cooked with melted butter to make an airtight seal, and filling jars and pots of cooked meat and fish in the same way. Thus they kept for days or weeks”.

Landscape with Cows, Anthonie van Borssom, 1649

Furthermore, just as cheese took hold and started to become an area specialty, so too did butter.  It began to be made with less-expensive dairy products (whey, milk, town milk, etc), which allowed it’s accessibility to all classes. The variations in butter also came as a result the cows’ diets, which would affect the taste based on what was eaten. Fresh grass from the pasture was preferred for the best quality milk to turn to butter (just as it was with the milk to be used for cheese too) yet, this was not always the case due to the a large portion of cattle eating clover as well. Resultantly, this variation created noticeable differences and would often affect the flavoring and coloring of butter.

The dairy industry boomed and the growth of butter lead to its export from England from the 1630’s onward.  The height of which was between 1638 and 1675.  Does that mean we could perhaps call it… the bread and butter of the English economy?  Oh c’mon, that’s funny!

Written by Mary Barbagallo, Intern

Edited by Hannah Howard, Volunteer Coordinator

Further Reading:

Food in Early Modern England – Phases, Fads, Fashions 1500-1760, Joan Thirsk, Continuum Books, 2007, New York, NY

The Country Life: Growing our Clothes

As the summer heat drags on, we turn our focus to an important crop we’ve been growing in the Kitchen Garden: flax.  This reed-like plant has been used for thousands of years to create a light-weight, durable fabric called linen, which was a staple textile for common folk and aristocrats alike. 

Flax plants starting to grow in the hot beds at Pennsbury, 2011

Linen production in the Delaware River valley began primarily in Swedish settlements as farmers began cultivating flax. By the time William Penn held the proprietorship of the colony, local leaders were urging settlers to increase growth of this fiber crop.

 The harvest of the flax begins in late July. Farmers would pull the crop from the ground and tie them into small bundles in which they would be laid out to dry for several days. Next step would be to pull the fibers apart in a tool referred to as a “ripple comb.” During this stage, the seeds would be removed and could either be used for planting or sent to an oil mill for pressing.   

flax-breaker

 

Following this, the separated fibers would be wetted and laid out to soften. After separating them again, they would begin a process known as “hackling” or “hatchling.”  Workers would draw fibers through a board with fixed steel teeth, providing fibers for grades of linen varying from rough working clothes to finer table clothes and sheets. 

combs for “hackling” the linen fibers

Flax was not initially a popular crop because of its need for fertile soil and the time-consuming, strenuous process of harvesting.  However, flax became more profitable up into the mid-1700s as a major export of the region. Soon, with the rise of cotton in the 1800’s, linen production would nearly cease to exist.  

Bolts of modern linen from Pennsbury’s clothing program

On an estate such as Pennsbury Manor, linens of all kinds would be common, from the roughest weave to the finest bleached linen. Visitors can see evidence of it’s colonial role all around, from the tools of flax harvest found in the kitchen house to the linen press kept in Penn’s Great Hall to store his expensive investment.  Linen was one of the key fabics of its time, and continues its popularity today!

By Ray Tarasiewicz, Intern

Edited by Hannah Howard

 

Come by next Sunday, July 22 and see what else is growing in the Kitchen Garden!  Horticulturalist Mike Johnson will be on hand to talk about the summer season with visitors.

William’s World: We’re So Cheesy

Aelbert Cyup, “The Dairy Maid,” 1650s

We’ve been recently discussing just how important dairying was, first as a career for the idyllic milkmaids and as a country business that was transported into towns (resulting in a more convenient, but poorer quality product).  As those articles said, there were a number of ways to prepare milk to be turned into various food resources. Today, cheese is a highly popular product (and a great way to preserve milk long-term), but it wasn’t always so fashionable!

Volunteer interpreters Susan PLaisted and Joan Healy prepare to drain the whey from cheese curds at Pennsbury Manor.

A large amount of milk went into cheese making. Although dairy did take its role at the table of the 15th and 16th-century elite in a number of forms (of which the five most common were cream, curds, milk, buttermilk, and whey), the one seen at their table least was cheese.   Cheese evolved from being a resource associated with poverty to being a sought-after staple for all social classes.

The main change that occurred in favor of cheese took place in the 1650’s when cheese became the primary reliance of the English army’s soldiers in Ireland.  Also used to feed servants or humbler guests, it was also found on ships because it lasted without deterioration, and thus it was a good option to send with both sailors and troops.

The whey is allowed to drain from the cheese curds, then the bundle is poured into a cheesemold and wrapped with a linen cloth. Cheese needs to be rotated and maintained regularly while being cured, or the liquid will settle on one side and will turn bad.

 Further support for the consumption of dairy in the form of cheese came about as Englishmen saw cheese savored at the tables of high-ranking society members abroad. Initially startling the English elite, especially if served toasted and not cold, cheese eventually took hold at their table. This was especially so as the milk industry boomed and the different counties of England began refining the cheese making process to produce various types include what would be most similar to that of a sharp cheddar today. And, although the outcome was surely delicious, the process behind cheese making is less appealing.

Calve’s stomach, which was required every spring for cheese-making.

Firstly, “a suckling calf’s stomach- bag was the usual source of rennet” (rennet-a dried extract made from the stomach lining of a ruminant, used to curdle milk).  As a result cheese was made during the spring when a single calf could be sacrificed for the sake of cheese making and milk would be abundant. In conjunction, the process of cheese making was something simple that could be done at the home if you owned a household cow. Likewise, there was no need for special expensive equipment and the milk could be processed quickly.  The resulting cheese making industry soon grew too and frequented the spring with the annual cheese making processes.

Come see Pennsbury Manor’s upcoming Cooking Demonstration next Sunday, July 15th from 1:00-4:00pm!

Flrois Claesz van Dijck, “Still-Life with Fruit, Nuts, and Cheese,” 1613

By Mary Barbagallo, Intern

Photographs by Hannah Howard, Volunteer Coordinator

 

Sources

Food and Drink in Britain – C. Anne Wilson, the Anchor Press Ltd., 1973, Great Britain

Food in Early Modern England – Phases, Fads, Fashions 1500-1760 – Joan Thirsk, Continuum Books, 2007, New York, NY

The American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition – Houghton Mifflin, 1985, Boston, MA

Penn’s Pen: A Government of Freedom

On Sunday we honored William Penn’s early hopes for a land of freedom.  Now we want to highlight the personal freedoms he made into law, just before sailing to his new colony in 1682:

“Persons living in this Province… shall in no ways be molested or prejudiced for their Religious Perswasion or Practice.” (Penn, Laws Agreed Upon in England, 1682)

With a law such as the separation of church and state, Penn allowed all citizens to find God in their own way, attracting many groups seeking religious tolerance.

In the late 1600’s individual freedoms were very seldom seen. Today we take privileges such as religious freedom, acceptance of diversity, and many legal practices in our government for granted. Could you believe many of these had their beginnings as the radical ideas of William Penn?  In 1681 a Charter was given by King Charles II and granted this ambitious young Quaker a large tract of land we know as Pennsylvania. During his years in England he experienced the wrath of religious persecution and unstable political rule. As Proprietor of this new land, he was able to set forth new laws and establish a government unlike any other of its time.

Another ground-breaking act was addressing individual rights. By establishing laws in accordance with the wills of the colony’s citizens and promising a representative government, Penn allowed for a more ethical form of authority. Other advances included lessening the harsh criminal punishments of English law, holding elections by secret ballots, ensuring an open court with a right to trial, allowing all people to testify on their own behalf, and enforcing the honesty of trial witnesses under penalty of perjury. 

Excerpt image from the Charter of Pennsylvania, 1681. The image in the upper left corner is of King Charles II .

Though William Penn had no direct relation to the American Revolution, his individual beliefs and practices have impacted the manner of the birth of this nation.  Give thanks on this Independence Day for the hard-won freedoms of those who came before!

By Raymond Tarasiewicz, Intern

Edited by Hannah Howard

Freedom in William Penn’s time excluded the enslaved Africans being shipped to the Americas.  Come next Sunday, July 8th to experience our Living History Theatre and learn about Jack and Parthenia, two slaves who worked at Pennsbury Manor.

Penn’s Pen: Caretaker of a New World

In honor of our upcoming Independence Day, we thought it fitting to share some of William Penn’s thoughts.  In the letter excerpt below, Penn had just received the charter from King Charles II and was now contemplating the immense burden just placed on his 37-year-old shoulders:

“My Friends:

            “I wish you all happiness, here, and hereafter. These are to let you know that it hath pleased God, in his providence, to cast you within my lot and care. It is a business that, although I never undertook before, yet God hath given me an understanding of my duty, and an honest mind to do it uprightly. I hope you will not be troubled at your change and the King’s choice for you are now fixed at the mercy of no governor that comes to make his fortune great; you shall be governed by laws of your own making and live a free, and if you will, a sober and industrious life. I shall not usurp the right of any, or oppress his person. God has furnished me with a better resolution and has given me his grace to keep it…” 

A map of the Americas by Dutch Engraver Johannes de Ram, c. 1685. Notice how anything past the coastal regions of North America are completelyunmapped –  they had yet to even understand how the vast promise of their new world

In 1681, William Penn was granted a charter to a piece of land in America “nearly the size of England”. Willing and ready to place into action his “holy experiment”, William Penn had a vision for Pennsylvania, a vision that would far exceed even the most liberal man’s expectations. Pennsylvania, so named by King Charles II in honor of Penn’s father, Sir Admiral Penn, the colony’s government’s design truly helped to form the basis of the Constitution we have come to know and abide by today.   The most prominent of ideas that passed on into the freedoms we cherish today are the ability to choose your own faith, freedom of speech, and above all life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Although our Founding Fathers never had the privilege of knowing William Penn himself, having been separated through a hundred years of history, I think it is safe to say that William Penn would have been proud to see how Pennsylvania and the states that were to follow came to form the country we know today.

 “It is a clear and just thing, and my God that has given it me through many difficulties, will, I believe, bless and make it the seed of a nation. I shall have a tender care to the government that it be well laid at first.” (Wm. Penn to Robert Turner, March 1681)

By Mary Barbagallo, Intern

Edited by Hannah Howard

We will be open on Independence Day, Wednesday, July 4, 2012. Come and celebrate 236 years of Freedom with a tour of Pennsbury Manor!

 

Further Reading:

Penn by Elizabeth Janet Gray, 1986, Graphics Standards, West Chester, Pa