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Roseanna M. White IS A CHRISTY FINALIST!!!

Roseanne M. White's winner is . Elaine Marie Cooper's winner of a $10 Amazon gift card is Nicole Wetherington. Carrie Fancett Pagels’ winner of choice of ebook or paperback of Saving the Marquise's Granddaughter goes to Deanne Patterson and the White Rose teacup set goest to Lena Nelson Dooley . Angela Couch's winner of Threads of Love e-book is Melissa Henderson and Marguerite Gray is the winner of Mail-Order Revenge print. Denise Weimer's ebook of Redeeming Grace winner is Ashley Penn. Congrats all!!!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Colonial Cats and Mice

Posted by Elaine Marie Cooper

There is a Colonial American proverb: “You will always be lucky if you know how to make friends with strange cats.”

Perhaps it was a popular saying because that friendship could help quell the numerous mice the colonists were forced to contend with. Not only did the scavengers threaten the colonials’ meager supply of food, the rodents even ate any supply of candles. The tallow (animal fat) that was used to make this precious commodity was apparently appreciated by the little creatures—much to the house owners’ consternation.



To shield the candles from destruction, the colonists built special wooden boxes and set them on the wall to keep their source of light safe from the hungry creatures.

But an early American household also kept that ultimate mice killer—a cat.

Until I visited Storrowton Village Museum in West Springfield, Massachusetts last fall, I was unaware that some colonial homes had openings to the outdoors for their cats to go in and out. I actually thought that cat doors were a 20th century invention. It certainly made more sense in the 18th century since they likely did not tolerate cat boxes in the house.



If you look closely at this 18th century home, which is situated at the museum in West Springfield, you will see the cat door in the lower right near the door.

A close-up will reveal it even more clearly.



Ah, the life of a happy colonial cat. Since we have no photos of a colonial kitty, my own feline, Julius, has graciously offered to model.



Julius has no such luxury to come and go as he pleases. His outdoor ventures to my front porch are closely monitored by humans. He is an indoor, city cat—but a great mouser indoors. With the cooler, fall weather descending, I am grateful for his hunting skills since the little rodents are notorious for finding the tiniest entrance into a home.

Mice were not indigenous to America. They were stowaways on board ships from Europe. As uninvited guests, they quickly made their home quite comfortably in the New World. Along with these little varmints on the boats were other pests: gray rats, black flies and (gulp) cockroaches.

The only reference to mice being in any way useful was in a volume called Taxation in Colonial America by Alvin Robushka: “Specific export duties were imposed on skins of beaver, raccoon, mink, otter, bear, wolf, muskrat, mice, and deer…”

Shiver. Mice skins? They actually skinned them and used them for something? 

 I don’t even want to think about it. But there must have been a lot of mice…

This author has opted to include no photos of rodents. :)

15 comments:

  1. Great post, Elaine! I cannot believe I never thought about those candle boxes keeping rodents out--always thought they were only for convenience sake. Love the pics esp the pic of your kitty!

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    1. It was certainly a surprise to me as well about the candle boxes! The historian there at Storrowton is wonderful, filling in such fun details. I guess I never thought of candles as being exactly tempting to the taste buds!! LOL! But I guess I am not a mouse...:)
      And Julius says, "Thank you."

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  2. Oh, Elaine! This is so timely for me - I just added a kitty to my 1600's manuscript! The kitty is left behind in England, but a new one is planned for book #2 in the New World!! My hero needed something to help readers like him! Julius is a handsome kitty! Thanks for the interesting historical tidbit - would never have thought about a kitty door!!

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    1. So happy this was timely for you, Rebecca! And how fun that your hero loves cats! (I think I like him already—hopefully he is not a cad otherwise...LOL!) I never would have imagined a kitty door either.
      And Julius is positively pompous with all the kitty praise...as you can see, however, he would likely never fit through the small kitty door on the colonial home. I'm certain he would get stuck. Perhaps too many mice? :)
      Thanks for commenting!

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  3. Aw come on... one little mousie photo? They are kinda cute. ;) Rats are another story.

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    1. LOL, Pegg! I actually don't have any personal photos of mice, and well, with copyrights being an issue these days....opted to leave the little fellows photos out! :)

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  4. Great article, Elaine! I think I have a cat in most of my books...especially the ones set at sea. They were great for catching rats aboard a ship!

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    1. That must have made for interesting voyages watching the cats vs. the rats!! Eeewww! But it was one more harsh reality of colonial life (and modern life too). I've yet to include a kitty in a colonial but I might have to consider it in the future! :)

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  5. That was a great read! I want to say, WOW and I want to say EEWW....
    Loved the olden day cat door. Who knew? :)

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    1. Who knew, indeed, Dorothy? I was certainly taken by surprise! This post stirs a combo of emotions from Awe to Horror, doesn't it! LOL Thanks for commenting!

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  6. Wow! I got such a kick out of this post. Who knew?

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  7. A very interesting post, Elaine. I hadn't really thought about it, but of course, a cat would be a very vital member of the household.

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    1. I hadn't thought much about it before either, Janet! I need to stat envisioning an interesting cat for a future colonial...:)

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  8. This made me so happy! We underestimate the ingenuity of our ancestors, I think.

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