Archive for the ‘Farming’ Category

“The house was new and pretty”

Brought up in the high society of the French court at Versailles; married at 17 to an aristocrat and soldier, with a promising diplomatic career ahead of him; serving the Queen as a lady-in-waiting; HENRIETTE-LUCY DILLON GOUVERNET DE LA TOUR DU PIN (1770-1853) could not have imagined that she, her husband Frédéric-Séraphin and their two children Humbert and Séraphine, would be fleeing for their lives to America in 1794. Disembarking in Boston after a 60-day journey, the emigrants traveled to Troy, New York, where they boarded with the nearby van Buren family to “learn American ways” before acquiring property of their own.

In September, my husband opened negotiations with a farmer whose land lay . . . on the road from Troy to Schenectady. It was on a hill overlooking a wide stretch of country, and we thought it a very pleasant situation. The house was new and pretty, and in good condition. Only a part of the land was in cultivation. There were 150 acres under crops, a similar area of woodland and pasture, a small kitchen garden of a quarter of an acre filled with vegetables, and a fine orchard sewn with red clover and planted with ten-year-old cider apple trees, all in fruit. We were told that the price was twelve thousand francs, which General [Philip] Schuyler thought not excessive. The property was four miles from Albany . . . .

As soon as we had the house to ourselves, we used some of our money to set it in order. It consisted of only a ground floor, raised five feet above the ground. The builders had begun by sinking a wall six feet down, leaving only two feet above ground level. This formed the cellar and the dairy. Above this, the remainder of the house was of wood, . . . The gaps in the wooden frame were filled with sun-dried bricks so that the wall was compact and very warm. We had the inside walls covered with a layer of plaster into which some colour had been mixed, and the whole effect was very pretty. . . .

. . . [O]n the day I moved into the farm, I adopted the dress worn by the women on the neighbouring farms—the blue and black striped woolen skirt, the little bodice of dark calico and a coloured handkerchief, and I parted my hair in the style fashionable today, piling it up and holding it in place with a comb. In summer, I wore cotton stockings and shoes. I only wore a gown or stays when I was going into town. . . .

Many of our neighbours made a habit of passing through our yard on the way to Albany. As we knew them, we never objected. Besides, in talking to them, I always learned some fresh piece of news. As for them, they enjoyed talking of the old country. They also liked to admire our small improvements. What excited most admiration was an elegant small pigsty made out of wood by M. de Chambeau [a friend] and my husband. It was a masterpiece of carpentering, but the admiration was couched in such pompous terms that it always amused us: ‘Such a noble hog sty’.

Because funds were tight, Henriette-Lucy made and sold butter, stamped with the family monogram; it “was much in demand.” She had eight cows and several slaves to assist on the farm. Then, she was dealt “the most cruel blow that any mortal could endure”: her daughter Séraphine was suddenly taken ill and died within a few hours.

In April, 1796, Henriette-Lucy, Frédéric, and Humbert, and their friend Monsieur de Chambeau, having come to America with valid passports, were able to return to France after the Revolution to take possession of their properties. Henriette-Lucy had been happy in America but had “a presentiment that I was embarking on a fresh series of troubles and anxieties.”

From Memoirs of Madame de La Tour du Pin, trans. by Felice Harcourt, (NY:The McCall Publishing Company, 1969), pp. 242, 253, 266, 282. See also In the Words of Women, pp.307-313. Illustration: watercolour on ivory (c.1802) in a private collection.

posted June 14th, 2018 by Louise, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Daily life,de La Tour du Pin, Henriette-Lucy Dillon Gouvernet,Farming,French Revolution,New York,Refugees

“land … they cultivate … better than their Master”

JANET SCHAW was a formidable Scotswoman who traveled across the Atlantic in 1774 to deliver three young relatives to their father John Rutherfurd who was a merchant and plantation owner in North Carolina. The journal she kept describing her voyage and experiences in the American South are invaluable resources. In honor of Martin Luther King Day I thought it would be informative to add to our knowledge of the nature and practice of slavery by presenting some of Schaw’s comments on these subjects. She found the largesse of nature in the area to be impressive, but criticized the character and indolent behavior of the white inhabitants who seemed disinclined to take advantage of it. She had praise, albeit grudging, for the slaves who made better use of this natural abundance than their white masters.

The congress has forbid killing Mutton, veal or lamb, so that little variety is to be had from the domestick animals; but indulgent nature makes up for every want, by the vast quantities of wild birds, both of land and water. The wild Turkeys, the wild pigeon, a bird which they call a partridge, but above all the rice-bird, which is the Ortalon in its highest perfection, and from the water the finest ducks that possibly can be met with, and so plenty that when on wing sixteen or eighteen are killed at a shot. The beauty of the Summer-duck makes its death almost a murder. The deer now is large, but not so fat as it will be some time hence; it is however in great plenty, and makes good soup. The rivers are full of fine fish, and luxury itself cannot ask a boon that is not granted. Do not however suppose by this that you meet elegant tables, far from it; this profusion is in general neglected. The gentlemen indeed out of idleness shoot deer, but nothing under a wild turkey is worth a shot. As they are now on the eve of a War, or something else I dare not name, perhaps they save their powder for good reasons. . . .

The Negroes are the only people that seem to pay any attention to the various uses that the wild vegetables may be put to. For example, I have sent you a paper of their vegetable pins* made from the prickly pear, also molds for buttons made from the calabash [a type of squash], which likewise serves to hold their victuals. The allowance for a Negro is a quart of Indian corn pr day (an infant has the same allowance with its parents as soon as born), and a little piece of land which they cultivate much better than their Master. There they rear hogs and poultry, sow calabashes, &c and are better provided for in every thing than the poorer white people with us. They steal whatever they can come at, and even intercept the cows and milk them. They are indeed the constant plague of their tyrants, whose severity or mildness is equally regarded by them in these Matters.

*Clothing was generally pinned together rather than sewn allowing for variety: sleeves were attached to a bodice with straight pins, for example. (See this post for more information.) As safety pins had not been invented, baby diapers were also held together with pins. Metal pins were typically used but these were expensive and also in short supply as American boycotts of British products took effect. Substitutes were sought, hence Shaw’s reference.

The excerpt can be found on page 139 of In the Words of Women.

posted January 18th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Clothes,Farming,Food,North Carolina,Schaw, Janet,Slaves/slavery

“Pleased, on reflection, to have made this journey”

Henrietta and Robert Liston spent a week in Charleston before beginning the return trek to Philadelphia. (See previous posts here, here, and here). Heading for Camden, South Carolina, they now found it necessary to use the letters of introduction more frequently. Mrs. Liston noted rice and indigo plantations but commented, “Cotton seems in some measure to have succeeded to Indigo, in this part of the Country. The process of Cotton requiring fewer hands, & being less prejudicial to health, & at present, even a more profitable produce.” One night they stayed with Colonel Johann Senf*,

a native of Germany & the superintendent of a Canal, the most considerable work of that kind yet attempted, in America; it is intended to join the Santee river to the Coopers river. . . . we found Col. Sinf [sic] & his Wife [Johanna van Berckel] living on a pretty little Spot, created & Beautified by themselves, it was laid out with peculiar neatness & Taste.

As they traveled north, the roads became worse as did the weather. In the region of the Catawba River, South Carolina, the Listons visited elders of the Catawba Nation**:

The Colonel & a few of the older Men spoke a little bad English, He apologized for the smallness of their numbers saying, the Young Men had not yet come in from hunting. We had, indeed, met some of them selling their Deerskins a hundred miles to the South. On the Colonels fire stood a pot, & there was a hoecake on the hearth; I asked what was in the Pot; he said Deerflesh for breakfast, but did not offer us any.

The travelers had to deal with bad roads, rainy and cold weather, a near drowning in a swollen stream, a sick servant and a “doctor” who also was the local parson and schoolmaster. By the time they crossed the Roanoke River in Virginia, one of the horses was lame and had an eye infection. It is no wonder that once the Listons arrived in Richmond, Virginia, “we were obliged to take places in the Mail Coach, The only mode of conveyance to be found for love or money.”

Seven days later on 7 February, 1798, they arrived home in Philadelphia, having been on the road for just over three months. Once again safely ensconced by her fireside, Mrs. Liston wrote, “Pleased, on reflection, to have made this journey, but feeling that few things could tempt me to repeat it.”

————————————————————————————————————

* Johann (John) Senf (c. 1740-1806), engineer of the Santee Canal, begun in 1793 and opened in 1800.
** The Catawba Nation was confined to a region of 15 square miles around Catawba River, their numbers decimated by small pox and wars with the Cherokee Nation.

————————————————————————————————————

Nonetheless, over the next three years, Henrietta and Robert Liston continued to explore the East Coast as far north as Quebec, and Portland, Maine. Mrs. Liston’s Journals show her to be an intelligent and discerning guide to the country and people of the United States. Her openness to new experiences, her adventurous spirit, and the zest of her language will certainly delight all readers.

Excerpts are taken from “1797. Tour to the Southern States—Virginia, North & South Carolina” in The Travel Journals of Henrietta Marchant Liston: North America and Lower Canada, 1796-1800, published in hardcover and eBook. The illustration is of the ruins of the Santee Canal.

posted December 15th, 2014 by Louise, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Farming,Liston, Henrietta Marchant,Philadelphia,The South,Travel

“I love a Garden and a book”

In 1745, when Eliza Lucas was twenty-three, she married Charles Pinckney of Charleston. They lived for a time in England where Pinckney served as a colonial agent. In 1758 they returned to South Carolina, where one month later Charles died of malaria. Once more it fell to Eliza to manage the family plantations. Her two sons remained in school in England; her daughter was with her. It became quickly apparent that the plantations were in financial difficulty: there had been a severe drought and the overseers were found to be incompetent or dishonest. She found a new overseer and wrote to a family friend in England in 1760 that “if it please God to prosper us and grant good Seasons, I hope to clear all next year.” She continued:

I find it requires great care, attention and activity to attend properly to a Carolina Estate, tho’ but a moderate one, to do ones duty and make it turn to account, that I find I have as much business as I can go through of one sort or other. Perhaps ’tis better for me, and I believe it is. Had there not been a necessity for it, I might have sunk to the grave by this time in that Lethargy of stupidity which had seized me after my mind had been violently agitated by the greatest shock it ever felt. But a variety of imployment gives my thoughts a relief from melloncholy subjects, tho ’tis but a temporary one, and gives me air and exercise, which I believe I should not have had resolution enough to take if I had not been roused to it by motives of duty and parental affection. . . .

In another letter to an English friend that same year Eliza Pinckney expresses some concerns: “A great cloud hangs over this province. We are continually insulted by the Indians on our back settlements, and a violent kind of small pox rages in Charles Town that almost puts a stop to all business.” In the last letter in this letterbook dated February 1762 she writes rather wistfully to a family friend in England:

What great doings you have had in England since i left it. You people that live in the great world in the midst of Scenes of Entertainment and pleasure abroad, of improving studies and polite amusement at home, must be very good to think of your friends in this remote Corner of the Globe. I really think it a great virtue in you . . . writing now and then to an old woman in the Willds of America. . . .

How different is the life we live here; vizeting is the great and almost only amusement of late years. However, as to my own particular, I live agreeable enough to my own taste, as much so as I can separated from my dear boys.

I love a Garden and a book; and they are all my amusement except I include one of the greatest Businesses of my life (my attention to my dear little girl) under that article. For a pleasure it certainly is &c. especially to a mind so tractable and a temper so sweet as hers. For, I thank God, I have an excellent soil to work upon, and by the Divine Grace hope the fruit will be answerable to my indeavours in the cultivation.

For information on Eliza Lucas Pinckney during and after the Revolution see In the Words of Women, pages 144 and 150-51. Her Letterbook can be found HERE.

posted April 17th, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Britain,Daily life,Death,Farming,Indians,London,Smallpox

“on the business of the plantations”

I have always liked diaries and letters that describe “a day in the life of” a particular girl or woman. Here is one by the amazing Eliza Lucas who, while she was still in her teens, was responsible for managing three plantations in South Carolina for her father, a British army officer posted in Antigua. (See another post here.) With her mother ill (she died in 1759), her two brothers at school in England, and her younger sister Polly at home, Eliza was the one who took upon herself the business of operating the plantations and making them profitable. To this end, she carried on an extensive correspondence with her father who provided instructions and advice, and considered Eliza’s suggestions for improvements. Eliza’s life wasn’t all business as her letter describing her daily routine, ca. April 1742, to Miss Bartlett indicates.

In general I rise at 5 o’ Clock in the morning, read till Seven, then take a walk in the garden or field, see that the Servants [slaves] are at their respective business, then to breakfast. The first hour after breakfast is spent at my musick, the next is constantly employed in recolecting something I have learned least for want of practise it should be quite lost, such as French and short hand. After that I devote the rest of the time till I dress for dinner to our little Polly and two black girls who I teach to read, and if I
have my paps’s approbation (my Mamas I have got) I intend [them] is for the rest of the Negroe children—another scheme you see.

But to proceed, the first hour after dinner as the first after breakfast at musick, the rest of the afternoon in Needle work till candle light, and from that time to bed time read or write. . . . Mondays my musick Master is here. Tuesdays my friend Mrs. Chardon (about 3 miles distant) and I are constantly engaged to each other, she at our house one Tuesday—I at hers the next and this is one of the happiest days I spend at Woppoe [one of her father’s plantations]. Thursday the whole day except what the necessary affairs of the family take up is spent in writing, either on the business of the plantations, or letters to my friends. Every other Fryday, if no company, we go a vizeting so that I go abroad once a week and no oftener. . . .

Eliza was especially interested in botany and experimented with methods of growing and processing indigo which was much in demand for dying cloth by England’s textile industry. Her success in cultivating the plant and processing it in cake form suitable for export added to the wealth of southern planters and was especially important at a time when the price of rice, the cash crop, was falling. Indigo production was very labor intensive and contributed to the perpetuation of slavery in the South.

For information on Eliza Lucas Pinckney during and after the Revolution see In the Words of Women, pages 144 and 150-51. Her Letterbook can be found HERE.

posted April 14th, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Daily life,Farming,Slaves/slavery

next page

   Copyright © 2018 In the Words of Women.