Paradise Found

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

To extract grease from clothes scrape off all the grease that you can with a knife; then lay over the spot a thick brown paper and press it with a warm iron.

The only grease I’ve had to contend with the last twenty four hours was from my plate lunch. Fortunately, it dripped on my Honolulu Weekly, not my writing.  Part of the reason I’m here is to relax with family, research and write. I walked all over Waikiki today, getting my bearings for the Hawaii Writer’s Conference that’s coming and wandered through the historic Royal Hawaiian Hotel. You can sometimes get jaded about Waikiki and what it is, but it is also a place worth honoring for its past and what it means historically to the people of Hawaii.  I get it.

It’s also incredibly beautiful with its white sands, brilliant turquoise water and Diamond Head.  Just ignore the masses out on the streets and the big hotels.  You’re a writer. You can edit them out.

Eventually, I found the cafe I discovered four years ago on my last visit and plunked my writing folder down at the window.  An iced coffee and biscotti and writing roomI was ready to sharpen my pencil and revise.  What a life!  I hope to come back to this place often in the next week.

Tomorrow I get the grand tour of Washington Place, the governor’s residence today, but once that of Queen Liliuokulani.  After that, a tour of Iolani Palace, the home of Hawaiian kings and queens and the Mission Houses. All this is history not often encountered by the average tourist and its a shame.  It’s Hawaii’s story and its 200 plus years of contact with the European world. I’m writing about it in my novel Mist-shi-mus that I’m currently revising and fact checking. Hawaii meets the Pacific NW.

So I’m researching, meeting new friends in the museum world and revising. I hope to get back to the window view soon.  Aloha nui loa.


Walking History and the Relief of Feet

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

957. The Feet– Should be washed in cold water very morning, and wiped very dry.  Stockings, if too small, cripple the feet as surely as small shoes.  Always be careful to get the foot room enough, and you will be rarely trouble with corns.

Honolulu ship  Oct 1852I’ve been thinking about feet and shoes and what I’m going to do about them.  I’m leaving for Hawaii in a few days and want to be prepared for a long visit, which includes walking.  A lot.  Manoa Falls, the north shore, the Koolaus.  I’m looking forward to the chance to see again truly historic places such as Kawaihoa Church, Mission Houses Museum, Iolani Palace as well new ones I’ve not seen before.

I worked at the museum many years ago and got my start exploring history with young children. “Where’s the TV?” was the usual question from a second grader.  I showed them lives of children from the past and how they might relate to them today.  Yes, they really hauled in water from three miles away and strained it through coral rock so they could drink.  Honolulu was very dry and dusty then.

There are grand ties there to the Northwest, something that I have always followed.  Going again will help me set the scenes in the NW novel that I’m rewriting.  I will also use the time to introduce my sons to the beautiful places I haunted as a young woman with the love of my life so they will remember too. Mission House HonoluluWhen I can, I’ll find a spot to write on my own. There’s a great cafe I found last time just right for the muse.

I’m also off to the Hawaii Writer’s Conference where I’ll be volunteering.  And walking as I help attendees.

Walking shoes or sandals? No stockings please.  I promise to wash my feet in cold water every morning.

Catching up

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

3712.  Prevention of Baldness –Eau de Cologne two ounces, tincture of cantharides two dachms, oil of rosemary, oil of nutmeg and oil of lavender, each ten drops. To be rubbed on the bald part of the head every night.

Just a short note.  Had a fantastic time at the English Encampment 150th anniversary of the Pig War.  Got over on a Friday evening, in time for dinner and set up in a tent, then up early for coffee and breakfast from Dutch ovens and stoves.

The Hawaiian Chief fired off two shots at 8:00 AM. Our battery returned. The rest of day was busy, topped off with a grand ball in a packed barracks and a thunder and lightening storm.  Father Ted and all the fixings I taught school all day as Miss Lydia. Guests from the British Consul, Mary Gilbert and a representative from the British Royal Navy and his wife made presentations and joined in the dance.

Dinner was a crowd of soldiers, Royal Marines, HBC employees, Fort Nisqually folk, grand and not so grand ladies and the crews from the Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chief, looking somewhat like pirates and very hungry after a day of rowing tourists out to their ships. (Did I actually see someone boarding the Lady Washington on Sunday for a sail dressed like Johnny Depp?)

Home late Sunday evening after two days of visitors numbering nearly 4,000?  The ferry was crowded with tourists and a truck suspicously carrying the wheels and parts to two battery guns.

Ah, history.  I breathe it and write about. A grand research weekend indeed. I now know how a longboat operates. Those oars are heavy!

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

Firing up the stove

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

130. To light a Coal Fire– A considerable saving of time and trouble might often be effected, if housemaids would attend to the following rules in lighting a fire: Clear the grate well from ashes and cinders; then lay at the bottom of it a few lumps of fresh coal, about the size of ducks’ eggs, so as not wholly to obstruct the air passing between the bars on which they are placed.

Mrs. Hale obviously never came to the Pacific Northwest where there was an abundance of trees.  Though coal was highly sought out by companies out of San Francisco, in part for the burgeoning maritime trade and steamboats and ships in that busy port, it was not  for cooking.  Until sources were found on the West Coast, coal had to come all the way around the Horn from the Eastern States.

The discovery of coal on Bellingham Bay in 1852 caused a great deal of excitement, but extracting it was expensive.  The Sehome Mine eventually became the leading  employer on the bay, but again, its coal was not  for heating and cooking in homes. Fort Nisqually kitchen

The cast iron cook stove was invented during the 1830s and became the desire of many a housewife. The Hudson Bay Company’s trading forts began using them early on. Narcissa Whitman out in Oregon country (near present day Walla Walla, WA) got  a little Hudson’s Bay stove in1841.  It had the oven directly over the fire box. Two oblong kettles were on either side.

This later model in the picture is at Fort Nisqually, which was a HBC farming outfit.  Both stoves ran on wood.

On Friday, I’ll be taking off for Friday Harbor and English Camp where I’ll be presenting a talk on 19th cookery and housewifery. I’ll be cooking in Dutch ovens, starting my fire with lucifer matches and some shavings from pitch wood, which comes from old Douglas fir trees.  Laid in with cedar tinder, these shavings can raise a fire quickly like Boy Scout water.  This year, I may get a chance to make coffee on the new 1850s stove the park acquired. It will be a mix of charcoal and wood to keep it going.

But, armed with sour dough, butter churn and my pot lifter I will make the best batch of biscuits ever on that old wood fire. File0015

Remembering Gettysburg

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

To write secretly on a pocket Handkerchief.- Dissolve alum in pure water, and write upon a fine white handkerchief, which, when dry will not be seen at all.  But when you would have the letters visible, dip the handkerchief in pure water, and it will be of a wet appearance all over, except where it was written on with the alum water.

As far as I know, my great -grandfather never wrote a secret letter to anyone during the Civil War, but he did record his thoughts in his small pocket  journal. For all five years he was involved.

One of the most dramatic was at the Battle of Gettysburg, an important turning point in the struggle and most revered.  But you’d never know it from his comments. They seem so calm. Here is what he writes:

Wednesday July 1stGettysburg-Dead-Soldiers-th

Had orders to move at 8 AM. Proceeded on the  road to Gettysburgh–soon heard cannonading in that direction and on arrival found a part of our corps engaging the enemy, about 20,000 strong.  A severe engagement followed. Our forces were driven back by superior numbers.

Thursday  July 2nd

The Rebs hold the town with many prisoners and all the wounded. Have had a busy day in the hospital, that of the 2nd Dev. containing about 300 wounded. Am now in the Rebels clutches as they surround the town.

Friday, July 3rd

Passed over the battle ground of the 1st to look after the wounded. Found a great number.  Spent the day among the  Rebels. This has been the hardest day’s fighting.  The cannonading was terrific.

Saturday, July 4thimages

This morning the citizens and prisoners of Gettysburgh were greeted with the welcome news that the Rebels had left town.  Soon our skirmishers made their appearance and all seemed to feel greatly relieved. There has been no fighting today.  Went to the hospital on the Baltimore pike.

Sunday, July 5th

Spent the day at Div.  Hospital.  News this morning that the Rebs have retreated. Many wounded Rebs came in today.  Were ordered to follow the corps this evening. Rode till after dark then went to Mr Fahnertoes and spent the night.

I’ve read these entries since a girl.  We were never sure what “Am now in the Rebels clutches as they surround the townmeant.

A couple of years ago, I contacted the historian at Gettysburg National Park and he wrote:

” Your great grandfather was indeed 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.

The 11th Pennsylvania, part of the Union First Corps, was involved in the fighting northwest of Gettysburg on July 1, 1863. Once the battle had commenced, temporary field hospitals were established in Gettysburg, the first being in churches and other public buildings. According to our records, most of the surgeons from the Second Division of the First Corps set up in Christ Lutheran Church on Chambersburg Street, where they treated wounded soldiers throughout the night and during the ensuing days of battle. It was on the steps of this church that Chaplain Horatio Howell of the 90th Pennsylvania Infantry was shot and killed by Confederate soldiers, a scene witnessed by your great grandfather. The town fell to control of the Confederate “Army of Northern Virginia” on July 1 when the Union forces retreated through Gettysburg and established a strong position on Cemetery Hill south of town. The southern forces withdrew from Gettysburg overnight of July 4-5 after which the many hospitals there fell back into control of the Union Army.”

History is so close sometimes.

So I’ll remember WF Osborn, a civilian who went to school in Chicago to become a doctor and eventually became a full surgeon in the Union Army. A native of Fair Chance, Pennsylvania, how did he feel about the battle and his capture 146 years ago today?

The letters are still around, but 50 years later he wrote from Gettysburg:

“July 3, 1913—My Dear Wife: Barring our honeymoon trip I am having the time of my life. Fifty years ago, three hours earlier, I was engaged in battle on Seminary Ridge. Now both sides are in smiles. Three cheers for a united country.

This July 4th, three cheers.

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

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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Historic Plumbing Part II

porta-potty2I’m now a week into the portable outhouse in my backyard as I work getting the sewer pipes replaced. Using it brings back memories of YWCA camp in the Pennsylvania woods with wolf spiders in the corner and a black snake that liked to sun himself at 1:00 PM in path to the john.

It also reminds me of the wonderful language resource I have used for years in researching my historic novels: I HEAR AMERICAN TALKING, An Illustrated Treasury of America Words and Phrases by Stuart Berg Flexner. Now out of print, it is a wonderful study of American words and sayings, showing when they first came into use in America and their origins. This information is especially important in historic novels. Word usage from the wrong period can really bump a reader.

Under the title chapter of “WHERE’s THE BATHROOM? Flexner explains the beginnings of usage around bathrooms and outhouses. For example, when the first outhouses appeared in the colonial days, lower class and rural colonists called their outhouses a privy, privy house or outhouse. The more aristocratic or cosmopolitan person used different words such as house of office, “a necessary house or simply the necessary. If behind a house, it might be called a backhouse; if earth were used to cover the excrement it might be called the earth house.” (Flexner p. 18)

Flexner also points out the origin of the half moon on outhouses. The half moon originally meant it was an outhouse for women. The sun indicated that the outhouse was for men. These are old medieval symbols.

Chamber pots for inside usage are another matter. Here in the Northwest, they were often referred to as “thunder mugs.” I won’t go any further than that. Cousin John or Jake were used by men for both the privy or chamber pot as early as 1530 according to Flexner. The word john has survived to this day.

My blue outhouse/privy does NOT have a sun or moon, but it does its duty. I’ll be happy when it’s gone.