April Tea Party Winners

Six Year Blog Anniversary WINNERS: Carla Gade - Pattern for Romance audiobooks go to Andrea Stephens and Megs Minutes and winner of Love's Compas is Terressa Thornton, PEGG THOMAS's signed copy of The Pony Express Romance Collection is Debra Smith, Janet Grunst's debut book goes to Kathleen Maher, Carrie Fancett Pagels' winner's choice goes to: Connie Saunders, Denise Weimer's print winner of, Angela Couch's winner's choice goes to Susan Johnson, Debra E. Marvin reader's choice of any of her novellas or a paperback of Saguaro Sunset novella -- Teri DiVincenzo and Lynne Feurstein, Jennifer Hudson Taylor's "For Love or Country" go to: Lucy Reynolds, Bree Herron and Mary Ellen Goodwin, Shannon McNear's winners are Becky Dempsey for Pioneer Christmas and Michelle Hayes for Most Eligible Bachelor, Roseanna White's winner for Love Finds You in Annapolis is Becky Smith.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Snow in Colonial America


"Never such a Snow, in the Memory of Man!"~ Rev. Cotton Mather, March 7, 1717


Spencer-Peirce-Little House, c. 1690, Newbury, Massachusetts
Photo courtesy: Karen Lynch

In 1717, my ancestor’s home in Newbury, Massachusetts was covered in snow up to the second floor. Last year, our Elaine Cooper wrote about this drastic winter in her post: The Great (and Terrible) Snowstorms of 1717.  This winter is also going down as a record-breaker in New England with seven feet of snow falling in Boston in a matter of weeks. In my own state of Maine we have had at least six. The roads have been so full of snow that the plows are challenged to find a place to put it all. After each storm, our road becomes more and more narrow with snow banks rising higher and higher. But in the early days of our country, snow falls created a different type of challenge than we experience today.
"Great Snow in 1717" wood cut.

The East Coast settlements endured such harsh winters that much of the initial populations were tragically reduced in their struggle to survive. The food supplies were limited, shelter insufficient, and illness ran rampant. In fact, in 1608, a new colony in Popham, Maine nearly succumbed to the "vehement" winter and those few that survived returned to England.

Painting of Colonial Jamestown by Sidney King,
National Park Service, Colonial National Historical Park.

According to weather historian David Ludlum, author of Early American Winters, 1604-1820 snows continued into April and even into May during colonial days. Extended winters and great cold meant reduced deer populations and starving cattle, later growing seasons, limited resources of firewood, reduced food stores and hardship in obtaining supplies, restricted transportation and communication, etc.. 

 
In Snow in the Cities: A History of America's Urban Response by Blake McKelvey a chapter devoted to "Snow in Pedestrian Towns from 1620-1800" provides some interesting detail about how towns managed their snow issues in early times. Although there were no automobiles, snow drifts needed to be leveled for sleighs to break through and pathways needed to be shoveled. In some cities, sleighs were required to have bells to warn pedestrians of their approach. By the early 1800s cities instituted ordinances for residents to assist with snow removal to keep up with increasing numbers of travelers and their conveyances. Ships were caught in the harbor and shipments were halted during winter months, in fact, Boston Harbor froze for 30 days in 1740. But while ferries and boats were frozen ashore, wagons could be drawn across ice laden rivers, which must have proved advantageous. Some folks traveled by snow shoes which would have been obtained through trade with the Indians. 

Driving the Carter Coach in a snow storm at Colonial Williamsburg.
Photo by David M. Doody
When firewood could not be brought into the cities due to frozen ports, people from nearby hamlets would take advantage of supplying the firewood to take advantage of the higher prices. During one frigid spell in 1760 more than 1,000 sleds brought firewood into Boston in one day alone. Other problems resulted from heavy snowfalls. In an agricultural society, the flooding that melting snow produces can be detrimental to farming. A good resource for weather conditions during 18th century America is Colonial America To 1763 by Thomas L. Purvis.

Colonial Americans may also have enjoyed some type of winter recreation, but primarily they would have been about their daily duties, especially though performed by the hearth.
Ice skating was an activity brought from England that they participated in. Skiing was not brought to America until the 19th century from Scandinavian immigrants, so skiing would not have been a pastime. Children also have enjoyed sledding and building snow forts and leisurely  sleigh rides may have been enjoyed by all. But most certainly great care would have been given as snow in those times could be a perilous thing.





What type of winter activities do you enjoy?

13 comments:

  1. Great post Carla! I used to love winter activities but can't manage them anymore. Skating sledding etc as a child. My son n hubs went sledding with friends yesterday!

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    1. I used to too Carrie. When our two sons were little, I would go out and play in the snow with them. But can't physically do it now.
      Blessings,Tina

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    2. I did too, Tina, with my two sons. We sometimes made ice candles and would go into their snow forts at night!

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  2. Carla, I enjoyed your post very much. I especially liked the comment about the sleigh bells.
    It's funny, when I was in school, history didn't interest me much; but now I enjoy reading and learning about our history.
    Blessings,Tina

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    1. Thank you, Tina. I love learning about interesting historical facts like the tidbit about the sleigh bells. Learning about history through narrative is always so much more fun than trying to memorize rote facts, don't you think?

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    2. I agree Carla, much more interesting. I have learned a lot about our history from Colonial Quills.
      Blessings,Tina

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  3. Very interesting, Carla. This is a topic I need to study further. I checked for those first two titles but the cost is prohibitive. Looks like the third title can be obtained without taking out a bank loan. :)

    Speaking of loans, I may try Inter-library Loan for the Ludlam book. Our library charges for that but it's certainly much cheaper than buying the one copy of the book I could find using bookfinder.com.

    Anyone else able to find affordable copies of the Ludlam book?

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  4. Aren't some of the best research books so expensive? Very disappointing. Sometimes we can sneak a few pages from Google Books or quotes and excerpts in online articles. Weather history always fascinates me.

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  5. Carla, so glad you're surviving this severe winter!

    I learned to ice skate in my back yard in Arlington, Massachusetts when I was about 8 or 9. The surface was perfect and I could skate at night time. Nothing like being under the stars on a quiet winter's night!

    Thanks for a wonderful post.

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    1. That sounds enchanting, Elaine! I learned to ice skate as a girl, too, but haven't been on skates in eons.

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  6. Here in South Carolina we may have one day of snow or snow and ice mixture per season. Our front yard is a hill, so I have a heavy plastic sled in our garage that I dig out when we have snow and ice. Great fun, but I'm getting older and must watch out for activities that threaten broken bones. We've gone years between snow, though. How fortunate that we can go back inside to warm homes, hot water, and dryers, and we can have hot chocolate within minutes. The colonials must have been hardy people (those that survived, that is).

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    1. Susan, that reminds me of when I went to college in Mississippi and it snowed (me being from Massachusetts could hardly call it that). The students would flat cardboard boxes and go down the steep hills on the dusting of snow. Funny and fun! We are so blessed to live in this day in age with all the conveniences of warm!

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