Tri-Counties Genealogy & History by Joyce M. Tice
Pioneer & Patriot Families by Heverly
Bradford County PA
Chemung County NY
Tioga County PA
Pioneer Habits & Customs

Pioneer and Patriot Families of Bradford County, Pennsylvania

By Clement F. Heverly

in Two Volumes

1913 & 1915

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Pioneer Habits and Customs.

MONEY was a very scarce article among the Pioneers, and they were required to dress in the plainest and least expensive manner. Their common habiliments were pantaloons and dresses made from flax for summer wear and from wool for winter. "Buckskin trousers" were in fashion and were not infrequently worn by the men and boys. Roundabouts, or sailors' jackets, took the place of coats. Calico was less common than silk is now and cost 75 cents a yard. She who could afford a dress made from seven yards of this material, wore "an extravagant garment." "The fashion was petticoats and short gowns." Shawls were made from pressed woolen cloth and the finest home-made linen was bleached and constructed into fine shirts for men and boys. A lady's common dress was copperas and white," as it was called; and ''copperas and blue, two and two," for nice. The women wore handkerchiefs as a covering for the bead, or bonnets of their own manufacture. It was not an uncommon occurrence to see a young lady, with her shoes and stockings, in her band and a handkerchief about her head, while on her way to 'meeting'' in the log school house or at some neighbor's cabin. When upon nearing the place of worship, she would sit down by the road-side and dress her feet. Garments were made to wear the longest possible, as it was very uncertain when the next could be had. The boys had bats and caps made by their mothers from woolen cloth or straw and sometimes from raccoon skins. Some wore knit caps, also, until "sealskin" caps, as they were called, came in fashion. Garments were fastened together with buttons constructed out of thread.

Nearly every wife had her spinning-wheel and loom and manufactured her own cloth. Each did her own coloring and the bark from a soft maple tree, hemlock, butternut or "witchhazel" was used for dyeing purposes, also log-wood and smart-weed. Copperas, alum and sorrel were used to set the colors.

During the summer season, the boys, girls and women generally went barefooted, as did some of the men. Rattlesnakes and other venomous reptiles were numerous and a great dread to the boys when in

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search of the cows. In the winter shoes with leggins were worn Frequently it happened that some of the poorer families had no shoes, in which case the boys would beat large chips or pieces of boards to stand upon while chopping wood, or performing other outside duties. But few of the men had a "dress-up suit." This consisted of kneebreeches ornamented with buckles, long stockings made from cotton, wool or silk, and shoes with buckles. A lady's "dress-up" generally consisted of a linsey-woolsey suit, improved by pressing.

The food or the pioneers was coarse and consisted of corn and rye bread, sometimes wheat with potatoes. The last were generally baked in the fire-place by covering them with ashes and coals. Mush and milk was not an uncommon diet. Venison could be had in abundance for the killing and brook trout and shad for the catching. Deer and bear meat were made more appetizing by smoking. Jerked venison was also a favorite article on the bill of fare. The flesh of the raccoon, woodchuck and, squirrel was utilized when larger game could not be had. Sometimes bread was made out of wheat and rye bran. Wheatheads cut before ripe, then dried and the kernels rubbed out, afforded material for an "extra" dish, which was prepared by boiling with a little sugar or milk added. Milk was the main dependence and was made a most palatable dish in many ways.

Stoves with ovens had not been invented, and baking was done in fire-places and stone bake ovens. The raw material for bread and cake was prepared and put in the bake kettle (a low kettle-shaped iron pot with a cover) which was then placed over coals on the hearthstone. Upon the cover of the kettle, coals were also placed, that the baking would be more evenly done. "Johnny-cakes" were baked in the long handled frying pans, which were heated over the fire-places. The bake kettle remained in use for some years, when it was supplanted by the tin oven, which could be heated before the fireplace and every side read. fly shifted against the blaze as the baking required. Maple sugar was used for sweetening purposes, and corn-cobs were burned in the bake kettle cover to get a substitute for saleratus. Maple sugar and honey took the place of butter, and bear's fat was used for shortening. Fried cakes were baked in pots of bear and raccoon fat. Browned rye, peas, beechnuts, chestnuts and chickory were substitated for coffee, and sage, thyme peppermint.. spearmint, evans root, spice bush, sweet fern, tansy And hemlock bows for tea. Imported tea and coffee were too costly and could only be afforded when the good mothers had company. Herbs of all kinds were gathered and used for teas in sickness and each had its specific cure. For instance, elderblow, catnip and wormwood were used for children, and boneset, pennyroyal, etc. for adults.

Greased paper hung over an opening in the wall afforded light for the cabins in the daytime. At night they were illuminated by the light given out from the huge fire-places and pitchpine splinters stuck in the chimney jambs. This furnished sufficient light for the mothers to sew, spin and weave by; for the fathers to mend and make shoes, and the boys and girls to get their lessons. A supply of pitchpine knots was generally put in before winter. Deer fat and lard were sometimes used for illuminating purposes. Tallow lamps were finally introduced and were used when tallow could be bad or lard spared. They were a cuplike construction to contain animal fats and could be hung against the wall. One end of a piece of cloth, answering as a wick, was dropped into the cup, and the other end, which hung out, was lighted. Tallow candles next followed and subsequently lamps for burning coal coal. The time of day was determined by "sun remarks'' or noon marks upon the door or window frame. Finally, the old fashioned clocks, without cases and with long cords, were brought in and sold at fabulous prices. Matches had not yet been invented andfire was made by striking a piece of flint and steel (or the back of a jack-knife) together, causing a spark, which was caught in a piece of punk (an inflammable substance, formed from decayed wood, which was always kept in supply). "Borrowing fire," as it was called, was not an infrequent occurrence. Wooden pails were substituted for tin and wooden plates (called "trenchers"), bowls, etc. for earthenware. Wooden spoons and forks, also pewter plates, spoons and other table pieces were in use. Sap troughs were substituted for cradles and brooms were made out of young birch and hickories.

Farming implements were very imperfect as compared with those, of modern invention. A plough was used with one handle and a wooden mold-board; a crotched sapling with holes bored through and supplied with wooden pins, answered as a harrow. Grain was sometimes "brushed in" by dragging a hemlock bush over the ground; pitchforks and hoes were manufactured by blacksmiths and were very clumsy articles. Reaping with the sickle or hand cradle was the slow and tedious method of cutting grain, which was threshed with flails and cleaned by shaking it with a hand-fan, a very laborious task. Fanning mills were not introduced until about 1825. Corn was ground, or rather smashed by resorting to the Indian's invention- the stone mortar and pestle: or the Yankee's device of the hollowed stump with spring-pole and pounder. Hay was scarce and cattle fed upon browse the tender shoots of trees, especially of the maple and basswood. Cows roamed in the woods and were found by the tinkle of the bells which they wore about their necks. Pigs were fattened upon hickory nuts or taken to the beechnut woods.

Modes of traveling and conveyance were in novel contrast with those of today. It was common to see the footman traveling with his knapsack on his back. Riding on horseback was the usual mode of conveyance from place to place and even of making long journeys. Sometimes a gentleman and lady, or a father and mother with two children might be seen pursuing their way in this style; and not infrequently parties to a hymeneal engagement betook themselves to the house of the minister or magistrate. Oxen took the place of horses, and in the ox-cart or sled families were conveyed to social gatherings or places of worship. As the country improved a chaise or gig was occasionally seen, and in due time wagons, stages and coaches were introduced in lieu of a wagon, long sleds were generally used in hauling hay and grain and in making trips to mill. Sometimes, however, hay was hauled to the stack by placing a, bunch or more upon a brush which formed a sort of sled; and not infrequently carried by two men for some distance by running two poles under a bunch with a man at each end. Logging and chopping bees were common, and the men and boys most cheerfully turned out with their ox teams, or came with their axes to assist their neighbors in getting a, start. "On such an occasion a sheep would be killed, and boiled mutton and pot-pie had in abundance for dinner and supper."

Spinning bees were also in fashion. The lady getting up the bee would distribute tow among her lady friends, and on a day set apart they would bring in their skeins and enjoy a visit and supper with her. The affair generally wound up in the evening by a dance, or "snap-and-wink-em," and other games. Another practice was for the gal of the neighborhood to go to the home of the lady, who was to be favored and procure a quantity of tow which was distributed among their sweethearts. On an evening agreed on, each swain took his girl with her ski-in to the home of their friend, where several hours were enjoyed in merrymaking. Sometimes, however, the ladies would take their spinning wheels under their arms and go to the house of a, friend,, do it day's work and enjoy a visit together at the. same time. Quilting and sewing parties were common, and mothers alike came with needles to assist their friends in need. Husking bees, apple-cuts and spelling schools were more of modern date, and dancing was the chief entertainment of the young people. Every mother taught her daughter- to spin, weave, make garments, bread, in fact everything required of a house-wife, and the young lady who showed herself the best skilled in these arts was the first to find a suitor.

Liquor was always had in abundance at chopping, logging and mowing bees, raisings, shooting matches and weddings. It was a very common drink, even church members and preachers imbibing. The best could be had for six shillings a gallon, and when a tippler got boozy he was not a week in getting over it. "Spirits" were regarded as a necessity and every family kept a supply.

The greatest economy had to be practiced and the wife vied with her husband in trying to get along. She not only did the work pertaining to the house but helped gather the hay and grain and not infrequently assisted in the fallow or sugar-bush. The people took great delight in visiting each other and would generally go on foot or with ox-sleds. A weal was always bad together, the hostess giving the best the house afforded, which was sometimes one thing and sometimes another, The guest never forgot her knitting work or sewing and would visit and work at the same time. The kitchen was the parlor, sitting room and all. There were no castes then and the old people say "these were. the happiest days we ever saw." One neighbor envied not another, but, on the contrary, did all in his power to encourage and help along. Such was the true, Christian life of the pioneers.

Education-The earliest elementary schools in the county, as established by the first settlers, were conducted in the most simple and primitive style. As the people began to improve their dwellings, Ole abandoned dwelling-house served foe the first school house. When a building was erected for the put-pose of school, it was not much better. The people of the neighborhood assembled, put tip a house of logs, laid up "cob-house" fashion, so high that it would be about six feet between the floors. The desks were made by boring in the logs and putting in bins for the shelf to lie on, The seats were slabs with pegs put in for legs. The only furniture besides consisted of a cross-legged table and, perhaps, a borrowed chair. All the appliances of the school were in harmony with the rude character of the building

Professional teaching was unknown. The best educated of the sons and daughters of the farmers, and mechanics were selected for this work, who enlisted in teaching only as a temporary employment, always leaving the school when a more lucrative business offered. The intellectual qualifications were not of a very high order. Reading, spelling, writing and arithmetic as far as Reduction, or at the most through the "Double rule of Three," were ample. Books were few and of the most indifferent character., often, three or four pupils using the same book. Goose-quills were used for pens, and making and mending them were a part of the teacher's work. Ink was manufactured from the bark of the soft maple. Problems were sometimes worked out upon shingles. The only apparatus was obtained in the beech and hickory groves near by, and the ability to use the rod with frequency and effect was an essential qualification for the schoolmaster.

In the earliest schools, the teacher was paid by a voluntary subscription from the people, which consisted sometimes of grain, flax, wood, work or whatever could be given in remuneration for the services rendered. Schools were kept open six days in the week and from, three to six months in the year. The compensation for male teachers was from 88 to $ 12 per month and for female teachers from 75 cents to 81 per week, in each case, including board among the families in the neighborhood. The Duke Liancourt who passed through Old Sheshequin in 1795, says: "There are two schools in the neighboring country, which are both kept by women who teach needlework and reading. To learn to read is, therefore, the only instruction which boys can obtain here. These schools are maintained solely by the fee of five shillings a quarter paid by each scholar. " 


Published On Tri-Counties Site On 6/11/98
By Joyce M. Tice
Email: JoyceTice@aol.com

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