Sunday, April 19, 2009


I recently introduced you to Janet Schaw and her Journal. It is but one excellent source for historical interpreters and reenactors to make use of in their role-play today. Once more, my oft-repeated caveat - always make sure the sources used are pertinent, not only to time, but to location. The following observation by Janet Schaw in her writings was c1774 and in South Carolina. Had she visited the New England colonies she would have found a different attitude and approach to:

Candle making and Laundry

“The myrtles thro’ all this swamp is the candleberry myrtle which makes the green candle you have seen at home. They give very pleasant light and when placed in a silver candlestick they look extremely pretty. And here for a moment let me lead you to admire what Nature has done for the inhabitants of this country. This is an Article which every housewife grudges the expense of - here they have it for nothing if they would only accept of it. The cotton is in plenty growing everywhere for the wick if they would take the trouble to spin it. The berries hang to the hand and seem to beg you to gather them but they generally beg in vain - not one out o fifty will take the trouble to make them into candles. The poorer sort burn pieces of lightwood which they find without trouble and the people of fashion burn only spermaceti, and if any green wax it is only for kitchen use. I have seen it prepared however and its process is the most simple you can imagine. When the berries are gathered and picked from the stalk they are thrown into a kettle of water which is set to boil and is kept boiling for a few hours in which time the berries melt almost away. It is then set to cool and when cold you will find the grosser parts have sunk to the bottom of the kettle, while the pure wax forms a cake on the top. To have it fine it requires to go thro’ several boilings and then it will become so transparent as to be seen thro’. All that is further done is only to melt it and pour it into proper moulds when it will afford the most agreeable light a candle can give”.

"As soap and candle are commonly a joint manufacture I will now mention that article which they have here very good as they have the finest ashes in the world. But when you have occasionally to buy it however you meet only with Irish soap and though some housewives are so notable to make it for themselves, which they do at no expense yet most of them buy it at the store at a monstrous price. They are the worlds worst washers of linen I ever saw and tho’ it be the country of indigo they never use blue nor allow the sun to look at them. All the cloaths coarse and fine, bed and table linens, lawns cambrics and muslins, chints, checks, all are promiscuously thrown into a copper with a quantity of water and a large piece of soap. This is set to boiling while a Negro wench turns them over with a stick. This operation over they are taken out, squeezed and thrown on the Pales to dry. They use no calender they are however much better smoothed than washed. Mrs. Miller offered to teach them the British method of treating linens which she understands extremely well as to do her justice, she does everything that belongs to her station and might be of great use to them. But Mrs. Schaw was affronted by the offer. She showed them however by bleaching those of Miss Rutherford, my brothers and mine, how different a little labor made them appear and indeed the power of the sun was extremely apparent in the immediate recovery of some bed and table linen that had been so ruined by sea water that I had thought them irrecoverably lost. Poor Bob, who has not seen a bleaching-washing since a boy was charmed by it, and Mrs. Miller was not a little pleased with the compliments he made her on it. Indeed this and a dish of hodge podge she made for him have made her a vast favourite and she promised him a sheep’s head. But as she rises in the Master’s esteem, she falls in that of the Mistress who by no means approves Scotch or indeed British innovations”.