Lighting the Way

What’s in Mrs. Hales Receipts for the Million 1857?

Things to Know

2024: Why do candles and lamps “spirit” when rain is at hand?

2025: Because the air is filled with vapor and the humidity penetrates the wick, where (being formed into steam) it expands suddenly and produces a little explosion.

Anyone writing historical fiction or even a non-fiction piece ought to know about the technology of the times.  Nothing can bump a reader out of a scene faster than having a character light a candle with matches in 1630. Sometimes it’s best to create a timeline just for technology just to keep ahead of the curve.

I’ve been wondering about candles. I have a price list for 1858 for a store in what was Whatcom, Washington Territory.  I know that spermaceti Food Prices 1858candles came from the head wax of a sperm whale and was considered a step above a tallow candle when it came to longevity– it didn’t smell like stinky tallow candles either. But what of Belmont sperm and adamantine candles listed so often in ads in the Northwest and San Francisco?

Turns out they were varieties of candle made from stearic acid processed from either coconut oil or tallow.  First adamantine candles. These candles were made with stearic acid which was separated out of fat in tallow. This process of creating this acid was discovered in 1811 and improved the quality of the candles used in the home.  It was blended into the wax to harden it.  It got its name as it looked like stone.  It burned longer and well.

A Belmont sperm candle has nothing to do with  sperm whale oil.  Before 1830, there was a type of stearin candle made from  coconut oil.  Its main drawback was that it stank when the light was extinguished. Then in 1830, William Wilson of Edward Price & Company in the Belmont section of London began to make stearin candles using a combination of palm oil and coconut stearin.  These candles were considered better than tallow candles, but inferior to adamantine candles. They were, however cheaper than beeswax and spermaceti candles which would continue to bring top dollar.

I’ve been working on a scene in my novel in which the officers from both Camp San Juan (American) and the royal marine encampment (British) get together for a ball after a horse race.  Lanterns have been set up everywhere, the band and dancers up on boards. What a fairy scene it will be, as long as I keep my lighting straight and the night without a cloud in the sky.

When I go back to English Camp in week or so for the grand 150th, I’ll be taking my lantern with me and my flashlight.  Just in case I have to camp back in the woods. English Camp at dusk2

Guest Writer: Mike Vouri and the 150 Anniversary of the Pig War

Mike Vouri as Pickett

What’s in Mrs. Hale’s Receipts for the Million 1857?

Choice of Reading. Never keep  house without books. Life is not life to any great purpose where books are not.  Read on any subject connected with your own pursuits.  A good book is a safe refuge in idle hours.

June 15, 1859. San Juan Island, Pacific Northwest. An American settler named Lyman Cutlar shot and killed a pig belonging to the Hudson’s Bay Company. The boar had been rooting in his garden. From that incident two nations, Great Britain and a young United States, nearly came to blows. This summer, the San Juan Island National Historical Park will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the historic event and its peaceful resolution.

Today, I’m happy to welcome my friend Mike Vouri, Park Pig War book coverRanger/Historian at the San Juan Island National Historical Park who knows quite a bit about the Pig War and George Pickett of Gettysburg fame, who was in the thick of the incident.  In addition to his duties in the park, Mike is a historian, actor, playwright and writer of several books on George Pickett, the Pig War and San Juan Island.

Mike, you began your career as a journalist. What led you to history and in particular to George Pickett and the stories around the Pig War? How did you end up at the national park?

After years as a journalist, including nine in the Air Force, I got interested in history and went back to school for it.  I worked as a reporter for the Skagit Argus and the Bellingham Herald and eventually became the public affairs person for the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, Washington. I was there for six years. During that time I curated a couple of exhibits. One of them was George Pickett and the Frontier Army Experience.

At first I wasn’t too keen about it, but as I learned more I found that there was tremendous interest in the man. (note: George Pickett was stationed at Fort Bellingham in present-day Bellingham Washington from 1856-1859 before going to San Juan Island at the start of the Pig War) The show ran from October 1994 to April 1995 and had a number of important objects in it, including two battle flags, Pickett’s sabre and reenacting uniforms. In preparing for the exhibit, I came in contact with Richard Seltzer, considered the top researcher on George  E. Pickett. His book, Faithfully and Forever Yours documents Pickett’s activities on the east coast.  He’s gone on to write more, but at the time, Seltzer knew little about Pickett’s role out here.  I showed him that while he helped me locate sources, objects and contacts. We have become good friends and the show was a great success.

In 1995, you moved to San Juan Island to become a ranger at San Juan Island National Historical Park. Not long after you researched and wrote the popular one-man show Life and Times of General George Pickett. Folksinger Michael Cohen matched the emotional tone of the play with period songs as well provide a supporting role. How did it start?

Originally, it was three hours long.  After its first performance in Friday Harbor,  San Juan Island, I decided to knock the first act down after being advised to make it funny and sad.

It’s a wonderful play. I’ve seen it four times now, one for our Save Our History grant in Bellingham WA in 2007.

It will be performed this summer for the last time on July 10 in Friday Harbor and at Fort Vancouver, Vancouver, Washington — time to be announced.  I’m retiring it.

You have been a pretty prolific writer in the past few years. In addition to a book on George Pickett in the Northwest, there is the OUTPOST OF THE EMPIRE, a book on the Royal Marine encampment on San Juan Island which came out in 2004.  And you published a history of FRIDAY HARBOR with your wife Julia Vouri a couple of months ago.

What I would like to talk about is your book THE PIG WAR which came out in 2008. This is the most comprehensive account of the Pig War with never before published pictures from both military camps.  Pictures include those from the Delacombe family whose ancestor, Captain William Delacombe, commanded the royal marine camp from 1867 on. How did that come about?

Pure serendipity. Got an email out of the blue from the wife of the great- grandson of Delacombe. They couldn’t travel from England so they sent me  a CD with pictures from Captain Delacombe’s family album . I learned a lot about the royal marine site from the pictures. There is a view of the hill behind the encampment taken from Guss Island. And we confirmed that there was a long boat at the camp.

There are also wonderful pictures of American Camp after it closed and a painting done by a British midshipman onboard the Satellite showing Pickett’s first camp.

Arcadia Publishing requires a large volume of photographs. Your interview in the San Juan Journal says that there are 190 photos in the book. I remember you telling me that you were a bit surprised by that and had to drop some text to meet their specifications. i.e. more pictures, a lot less text.  How did you reconcile that? Did text translate to caption?

As Arcadia books are image driven with limited space for text (that is, only 350 words per chapter) it is critical to sustain the narrative with captions. Therefore, they cannot be repetitive. Each is composed anew.

I thought the book  moves very smoothly. The pictures are wonderful.  I learned some new things myself.  Amazing that  some building from both camps were preserved at all.

The Pig War is a real historical event and this summer will be the 150th anniversary. For the past eleven years, the park has presented English Encampment, a celebration of the peaceful occupation of the island by American and British military. Re-enactors come from here and Canada. Tell us what your plans are for this important celebration.

We are expecting a large turn out of reenactors from the US and Canada. One thing we are excited about is the participation of the Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain. They will participate for the first time. Visitors will be able to book a three hour trip on each ship on Sunday. They will anchor off English Camp during the weekend event.

There are other talks and events during the whole summer.

Yes.  Check the park’s calendar.

Thanks, Mike. I’ll see you all soon under my favorite Big Leaf maple.

Mrs. Hale’s Receipts for the Million

I’ve decided to add something to this blog.  Every year for the past thirteen years, I have gone to English Camp on San Juan Island and have demonstrated mid- 19th century folkways.  There’s a lot of butter making and biscuit cutting going on — as well as spinning and candle dipping.

Mrs Hale's receipts cover

Leading my understanding of what a housewife put up with is my great-grandmother’s receipt book, MRS.HALE’s RECEIPT’S FOR THE MILLION.  This delightful book is both charming and informative, filled with 4545 “receipts” that range from cleaning leather and churns, caring for the invalid and making coffee. Published in Philadelphia in 1857, my great grandmother surely found use for it as she made her way from Western Pennsylvania to Kansas to craft a life with her surgeon/lawyer husband.

I think we should all get a daily dose or least every time I post. So here’s what’s in MRS. HALE’s RECEIPTS for today:

COFFEE: The infusion of or decoction of the roasted seeds of the coffee-berry, when not too strong, is a wholesome, exhilarating, and strengthening beverage; and when mixed with a large proportion of milk, is a proper article of diet for literary and sedentary people. It is especially suited to persons advanced in age.

I think I’ll go get some.

The Pig War

On June 15th, 1859 the incident known as the Pig War occurred on San Juan Island.  I’ll be writing more about it in another post, but suffice to say, there will be doings at the San Juan Island National Historical Park this summer for the 150th anniversary.

The “English Encampment” is one of them. Sat Morning Meeting 3 An annual event for the past 12 + years, it is very dear to my heart for the friends and history that I have learned there.  I’ll be returning as Miss Lydia to run my Academy on July 24thFather Ted and all the fixings through 26th with about 80 other enactors. Miss Lydia's Academy

Memory Day

Just a quick post. It’s beautiful out and I want to work in the garden before it gets too hot for we northwesterners. And I want to write.

But I am thinking of vets today, including my late husband who served in Vietnam and my great grandfather who was a surgeon in the Civil War.  For many, this could be a painful time. My husband never wanted to talk about his experiences except for a brief time when we first met. For others, like my great grandfather, he did want to remember.  He went all over the west and to the east coast at GAR encampments, returning for even the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg where he was captured by the rebs for a few days and set up a surgery in a church and treated everyone.

On this day of memorial, of memory, I’ll be thinking of both  men and how deeply they affected me: my true love for his opening up my eyes to many things and broadening my love of nature all those years following him on fishing trails and streams and to WF Osborn, whose Civil War journals inspired me at a young age to turn to history and seek out the ordinary, not so famous people who lived through it.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Finding History in the Corners

I got in to history because of my great grandfather William F. Osborn’s Civil War journals. He was an assistant surgeon with the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry and was, for a few days, a prisoner under Confederate guard during the Battle of Gettysburg. My grandfather, his son, transcribed them sometimes in the 1940s and 50s. But I got to hold the real ones when I was seven.

Not long ago, I studied the journals more closely and discovered a wealth of information written on the end papers and sometimes upside down in the corners. A good historian always looked closer. In one journal from 1864 he laid out the order of how the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteers lined up in the end papers of the front. Being a civilian in life before the war, he had to figure it out.

Right of Reg D. I. E. C. A. K. H. B. F. G. Left of Reg.

On the end papers on the back, he wrote down the officers with each company.

They were:

A Noble Capt Amstrong 1st Lieu

B Haines capt Stran Phillips

C Cap Shawl 1 L 2

D Capt Overmine (?) 1st L Hall 2 More

E Piper Hammond Briggs

F Chalfant Anderson McCutchin

Perhaps someone out there recognizes the names. Historical research is like peeling an onion or better a collection of dots that eventually connect

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