tagged woman - Walters Art Museum

Welcome, Gentle Reader, today I’m sharing another look at the lives of the early Pennsylvania Dutch as part of my immersion into the lives and culture of Martin’s ancestors. I am enjoying learning about them and Martin says they’re my family too because I found them. That generosity is one of the reasons I love him.

Rev. F. J. F. Schantz, DD of Myerstown, PA wrote a book titled as above, published in 1900, in which he outlined the wants and needs of Pennsylvania’s earliest Germanic settlers. Naturally their first concern was shelter and those shelters were commonly made of logs with the cracks filled with a mixture of clay and grass or of stone. “Windows were of small dimensions. Doors were often of two parts, an upper and a lower, hung or fastened separately. The interior was frequently only one room, with hearth and chimney, with the floor of stone or hardened clay”. Stairs or a ladder led to the attic for sleeping quarters and storage.

“The pioneer’s house was not complete without the large fireplace, often in the center of the building and very often on one of the sides of the house, with hearth and chimney erected outside of the building, yet joining the same…

It was not difficult to make an inventory of the contents of the dwelling-house. The large hall had but little furniture besides a long, wooden chest, and a few benches or chairs. The best room of the house on one side of the hall contained a table, benches, and later chairs, a desk with drawers, and the utensils used on the special hearth in heating the room. In the rear of the best room was the kammer (bed-room) with its bed of plain make, also the trundle-bed for younger children and the cradle for the youngest, a bench or a few chairs and the chest of drawers. The room on the other side of the hall was often not divided, but when divided the front room was called the living-room (die Wohnstube), with table and benches or plain chairs, with closet for queensware and the storage of promiscuous parcels, with the spinning-wheel, with a clock as soon as the family could afford one, and with shelving for the books brought from the fatherland or secured in this country.

The kitchen contained the large hearth, often very large, with rods fastened to a beam [lug pole] and later an iron bar, from which hung chains to hold large kettles and pots used in the preparation of food; the tripod also on the hearth, to hold kettles and pans used daily by the faithful housewife; the large dining-table, with benches on two long sides and short benches or chairs at each end; another large table for the use of those who prepared meals for the family; extensive shelving for holding tin and other ware; benches for water-buckets and other vessels and the long and deep mantel-shelf above the hearth, on which many articles were placed. The second story of the house contained the bedrooms and often a storage-room. The bedrooms were furnished with beds, tables, large chests, and wooden pegs on the partitions. The attic was of great service for the storage of articles of the mechanism of man and the preservation of fruits of the field, the garden, the orchard and the forest.”

Once the home was finished, the family concentrated on building a barn, spring-house, wood-house and the large bake-oven and smoke-house. The latter two were often under the same roof.

“The early settler knew nothing of coal, coal-oil and burning gas. He had no matches, but used flint, steel and punk instead, or the sunglass on days when the sun shone brightly…” The fire produced light as well as heat, and at night was carefully covered over with ashes or a cover so that in the morning there would be enough coals to produce fire without resorting to such methods.

“Tablecloths were not always used. The first dishes were pewter and later of domestic earthen ware and pottery. Platters, plates, bowls and other vessels held the prepared food. Individual plates, cups and saucers, knives and forks were not wanting…”.

Unless they’ve visited an 18th century living history village, most Americans cannot envision a home like the one described in this post, but there may just come a time when we have to return to those ways. How will you fare if your electric appliances don’t work, store-shelves are bare, and fast food is but a distant memory?