Learning Your ABC’s and 123’s – A 17th-Century Education

“Education is the stamp Parents give their Children”

– William Pen

When we think of standards in education today, it is safe to say it has come a long way since our colonial forbearers. We talked last month about the realities of colonial childhood, particularly for Quakers.  Because of their responsibilites to their family, general education in the 17th century was erratic. 

Without buildings dedicated for teaching, communities had to organize financing for the construction of school houses, funding teachers’ salaries, and getting parents to agree to let their children spend the day in a schoolroom instead of helping at home.   This last condition was sometimes impossible for poorer families, who needed their children’s help to survive. 

Gerard Terborch, “The Reading Lesson,” mid-late 17th century

As a result, families often chose to become their own center of education. So if a child was to learn to read,  write, or calculate, someone in the family had to teach them.  This also meant time away from chores, but these skills would be necessary if a son (especially the one to receive the family inheritance) were to manage the family’s business and participate in public affairs. 

One of the few existing hornbooks today. This particular one is owned by a family in Long Island.

The common way for the children to learn to read and spell was through the use of a hornbook. Named literally for the materials that made it, a hornbook was a thin piece of wood backing topped by a piece of printed, then covered with a layer of horn.  The horn was thin enough to let the paper been seen for reading, and all was held together by strips of metal around the edges. The book had a small handle with a hole for string so the book could be carried, either around the neck or over the shoulder. The printed page would include an alphabet with large and small letters, along with simple syllables and the Lord’s Prayer. The backs of the books were often decorated with a design. Used nearly every day, they were often used until worn out, meaning few 17th-century hornbooks exist today. 

Quakers used the hornbook and some of the other practices of  traditional 17th-century education; however, the main ideas behind their educational practices were based in their religious beliefs.  They tried to control the children’s environment, preserving their faith and promoting certain behaviors including dress, speech, and silence.  This led Quakers to believe that education was a foundational tool for spreading their practices, and opened their own institutions separate  from the Protestant or Angelican schools.

A young man learns the skills of being a Joyner, a 17th-century woodworker.

 Because of their isolation and irregular practices, Quaker education did not prepare children (mainly boys) for college.  Classic topics (Latin and Greek) were often not included in their education. Moreover, Quakers were also “free in their criticisms of traditional schools.” Even Penn noted the issues with English schools, saying “We are in Pain to make them Scholars, but not Men! To talk, rather than know.” Nonetheless, both Penn and other Friends wanted “classical learning with the study of useful knowledge”. This practical knowledge meant being able to” read, write, and cipher” while gaining “a fuller appreciation of the Creator”. William Penn also made his sentiments on education known through letters to his wife,which can be viewed in a previous post entitled, Stay in School.

Classical and practical education also came in the form of apprenticeships. Apprenticeships were seen as privileges that provided an education which ensured a child’s livelihood later on. On the other hand, becoming an apprentice could be a traumatic experience, seeing as many children (again, boys) would start young (usually around 12 years old) and leave their families to live with their master. This strict frame for growing up was backed by the Proverb 22:6, a popular verse amongst Friends: “Train up a Child in the way he should go, and when he is Old he will not depart from it.”

Realistically though, we know better than to think all children listen to their parents! For Penn this proved true and it’s safe to say that his children didn’t quite follow his religious and education views through and through. 

Written by Mary Barbagallo, Intern

Edited by Hannah Howard

 Sources:

Child Life in Colonial Days, Alice Morse Earle,Corner House Publishers, 1989, Williamstown, MA.

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.

The Country Life: It’s Harvest Time… Right?

When many people think of the harvest, they think of autumn. But another important time for gathering crops, not to be forgotten, takes place in the heat of the summer!

In an age where food wasn’t from the local supermarket, but from the land people lived on, it was important to use the soil to the best of its ability.  With ground-breaking techniques (no pun intended!) of the time, farmers were able to work the land to provide maximum yield from the beginnings of spring, to the eve’s of winter.

The Corn Harvest (August), Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1565

One important crop of colonial Pennsylvania was wheat.  Of three varieties grown, winter and summer wheat were able to be harvested around the month of June if weather had been good.  Governor Penn even reports “they may sow eight acres; half with summer wheat and half with Oats,” referring to successful agriculture production in his colony.  Other summer crops include rye, hemp, barley, oats and flax.  

In smaller kitchen gardens, more customized techniques could be applied to each plant being grown. Here at Pennsbury Manor we have a reconstruction of William Penn’s own kitchen garden. It was intended for raising vegetables, herbs, and anything else that could be found useful in the estates kitchen. Structures like “hot beds” were created to begin the germination of seeds in late winter. This wooden framework was filled with manure, and topped with a layer of soil; this bed could become as hot as 100°F in the coldest of winter. Once mature enough, they can be moved to garden beds.

A view of the cold frames and hotbed at Pennsbury Manor

Similar to the hot bed, the cold frame was a structure used to protect fragile herbs.  This structure was enclosed with spare glass, matting or canvas. One would also find raised beds. This state of the art invention allowed planters to control the fertility of their soil and manage it accordingly.

With innovations such as these, the kitchen garden would be able to adapt to the seasons and continuously provide for the estate. In a time like Penn’s, it was always important to put time to its best use, even in the heat of the summer!

By Ray Tarasiewicz, Intern

Edited by Hannah Howard

Come visit Pennsbury Manor next Sunday, August 26 and learn about the Kitchen Garden’s summer activities!

Dutch Cooking: They’re Not Just Tilting at Windmills

“In Praise of the Pickled Herring,” Joseph de Bray, 1656

One of the great appeals of colonial Pennsylvania was the acceptance of diversity allowed by Governor William Penn. With the mingling of different cultures, citizens began encountering new cuisines of all types and cultures.  One particularly influential people hailed from the Netherlands! 

 The Dutch had been given access to an array of ingredients never before available in Europe.  During their Golden Age, a period lasting from the mid-16th to mid-17th centuries, the Netherlands expanded their empire by securing a diverse range of colonies. Trade from the distant East and West Indies, now modern-day Asia and the Caribbean, brought about wealth as well as changes in appetite.

“Gouden Leeuw ,” Willem van de Velde,1686

From these far lands came indulgences like sugar cane, chocolate, spices and even pineapple! With these new ingredients becoming increasingly available, the palette of the average Dutch citizen began to incorporate more sweets and treats.  Notable foods introduced by the Dutch include pretzels and coleslaw.  Delights such as gingerbread, waffles, wafers, pancakes, honey cakes, and local confections like marzipan and olie-koecken became common.  As you can imagine, the Dutch soon became renowned for their well-developed sweet tooth!

You can find a recipe for 18th-century doughnuts, also of Dutch origin, posted by Colonial Williamsburg.

Jan Steen, “Celebrating the Birth,” 1664

 On the voyage from the Netherlands to the New World, they not only brought their recipes but also their cookware. A common piece in a kitchen during this period was a mult-purpose cast iron pot, complete with legs and a brimmed top.  This pot was such an efficient cooking tool it became known worldwide as a Dutch Oven, a term which dates to at least 1710. 

Also settlers came prepared with frying pans and even irons for waffles. Over the years, settlers began to incorporate native produce like pumpkin and corn into their traditional food ways devising creations like pumpkin-cornmeal pancakes. This important culture has helped shape the growth of colonial Pennsylvania, as well as impacting the diet we find commonplace today.

By Ray Tarasiewicz, Intern

Edited by Hannah Howard

 

Come visit Pennsbury Manor next Sunday, August 19th to watch our Open-Hearth Cooks making authentic Dutch recipes!

William’s World: Make Your Mark

“One drop of ink makes thousands, perhaps millions think…”

– Lord Byron

Although from different centuries, Lord Byron and William Penn shared a common tie: the fervent use of the quill pen and inkwell. As kids and adults prepare for another school year to begin, it’s interesting to look back on the technology of our ancestors. 

No BIC ballpoint to be had at the time, the quill was the predecessor of modern day pens and became the universal tool for placing one’s thoughts to paper! Resultantly, in the 17th century, the quill and ink maintained a strong hold, especially among the educated. As the primary resource for composition, the quill (so named after the Latin word “penna”, meaning feather) and ink were staples not only in Europe, but the colonies too.

“Man Writing a Letter” by Gabriel Metsu, 1662-65

As governor, an academic and religious leader, William Penn was truly a man of writing.  Composing books, letters, official documents and more, his quill was so much a part of him that the Lenape referred to Penn as Brother Odus (“odus” being the Lenape word for feather). Nevertheless, the expectations for a quality quill pen were not as light as the feathers they were made of.

There is a fair bit of literature dedicated to documenting specifications for making, maintaining, and using quill pens. For making quill pens, it is noted that the flight feathers from geese made for the best pens and, depending upon which hand you wrote with, this could dictate your preference for which side the feather was taken from (left or right wing). Furthermore, the preparation and formation of the quills was truly treated as an art form. Letting the quills thoroughly harden, the outer layer of skin could be removed through a process known as “dutching”, the baking of the quill in hot sand. They would then be cleaned and cut. The process of forming the nib of the quill was also precise. You had to ensure you had a sharp penknife, patience, and good technique. The development of the shaft along with the carving of the tip by the quill maker resulted in no two quills being alike. For maintain a quill it was recommended that you “keep your pen-nib always wet. Keep tip in water. Don’t let ink residue dry on it- it clogs the nub.” As for using the quill, it is recommended to use a light touch and a slanted hand, although some require more pressure.

In similarity to the creation of quills, the manufacturing of ink varied as well.  No two were perfectly alike, as there was usually a variation in ingredients and process. Produced from varied plant, animal, and mineral extracts; a common recipe (often produced by farmers as an additional source of income) consisted of oak galls (growths on oak leaves caused by insects), copperas (a naturally occurring, greenish, crystalline, hydrated ferrous sulfate, used in manufacturing of fertilizers and inks and water purification), and water. High in tannin and often also used for dying fabrics and tanning the ink was poisonous, but very permanent. As a result, it held up well over the years and has allowed us to examine documents and make numerous discoveries from writings made centuries ago. These discoveries include accounts of William Penn’s purchases of ink, amongst various other goods; it allows us to examine the development of handwriting and penmanship over time, as well as allowing us to examine ever changing grammar. So, the next time you pick up your quill and inkwell (or maybe just your ballpoint pen), think of the immense “mark” you can make!

 By Mary Barbagallo, Intern

Edited by Hannah Howard

Writing was not the only way to make your opinions known – come next Sunday, August 12 and watch our Living History Theatre reenact the Germantown Protests against slavery!

Further Reading:

Nickell, Joe. Pen, Ink & Evidence: A Study of Writing and Writing Materials for the Penman, Collector, and Document Detective. Lexington,KY, U.P. of Kentucky, 1990

BBC Video Series – Tales from the Green Valley

A Secretary Hand ABC Book by Alf Ison

Richard F. Gray, quill maker – Historic America Quill & Document Co.