Deliverance Brown and Sarah (Nichols) Morris Brown were the parents of three children. Hannah, Sarah, and Deliverance Jr. – Sarah married John Parrish in 1814, and they eventually made their way to Putnam County, Ohio. The parents of 11 children within 20 years, Sarah’s days were certainly busy ones managing her family and the homestead.

I found this little bit of insight into the day-to-day life of a 19th century farmwife that helped me see just a little bit clearer into what Sarah’s life may have been like:

“In general, the records of the 19th century tell us that whether a wife was of middling or more modest means, she spent her days managing the home and family. Her life was exhausting and not much different than her 18th century mothers.When her husband was at home, the wife was responsible for all household chores with or without help from others. She rose before sunrise and before most members of the family. If she had no help, she rekindled the fire, drew water, a put the kettle on to heat. She fed the chickens and milked the cow if the family had them. She kneaded dough for bread for breakfast and probably stirred a hominy pot that had slowly cooked overnight. She served breakfast to the family and then washed the pots and dishes. Then she began preparing the largest meal of the day, dinner which would be served about 1 or 2 pm.

When she was not cooking and serving meals, she made candles; did the laundry; mended, and sewed; made soap and starch. Most wives hatched, combed, and spun flax and cotton for thread. For woolen yarn, they separated, cleaned, oiled, carded, combed, and rolled the fleeces from usually filthy sheep in preparation for spinning with country-made or imported wheels. They bleached their yarns in the sun and dyed them by immersion in homemade broths, usually a concoction of herbs, local berries, or tree bark. The housewife knit her yarn into coarse stockings and warm mittens or more elaborate bonnets and hose. If she had a loom, she made her own fabrics for bedding and clothing and often made fabrics for neighbors.

She taught her daughters these skills, so that they could grow into acceptable wives. If a family could afford to buy yarn already carded, spun and dyed, the women of the house might spend their extra time sewing for themselves and perhaps others.

The wife tended the garden; dried apples and cherries; picked berries and beans; made sausage, preserves, and pies; pressed cider; buried fruits and vegetables to keep them over winter; drew water; and split kindling. She would need to carry about 30 pieces of wood each day to keep the fire going and haul countless buckets of water to the house. Wooden buckets weighed about 20 pounds when full. She also produced and tended the children and taught them as they grew. As the day came to an end, she prepared and served a light supper, cleaned up the tableware, mixed dough for the next day, and prepared a kettle for breakfast.
Throughout the night, she nursed hungry babies and banked the fading fire. When called, she also served as midwife and nurse for neighbors. She tended the elderly in her own extended family. She supervised household help, when the family could afford extra hands. Wives traded goods with other women. They might exchange excess produce, swap yarn for finished clothes, or butter for seeds. When husbands were away from home, wives oversaw any crop production or livestock and any family business obligations in addition to their regular chores.”
(http://b-womeninamericanhistory19.blogspot.com/2009/02/in-october-2008-i-decided-to-annotate.html)

I get frustrated, exasperated, and yes, sometimes tired of the constant mothering of my own three monkeys and the daily responsibilities that I have here and now. But I wonder, what would Sarah have done had she Facebook to distract her from her routine? Would she tweet to her fellow farmwife followers that “the old hen layed the biggest egg I’ve ever seen this morning!” Instead of finishing the dishes after dinner and heading to bed with the setting of the sun…what would she think of being able to sit and catch up on her favorite TV show thanks to the DVR recording it earlier in the evening for her? Yes, I think her 11 children would still keep her busy, possibly running from soccer practice to after-school rehearsals, and then making sure those chores on the farm are still getting done – because yes, that is their livelihood.

And I think about her two babies…her son, Deliverance, who died when he was only 3 1/2 months old. Three children later, a daughter, Susan would sadly die when she was 7 months old. it wouldn’t matter the number of other children still living at home…or even the four who would be born after. This mother would always mourn the loss of her babies.

I have never milked a cow, nor have I ever baked a loaf of bread without the help of a bread-maker. I have gathered eggs in the morning – once…as a child….a very, VERY long time ago…but I wouldn’t exactly count that in my favor as following in my 3rd great-grandmother’s footsteps as a completely incredible wife, mom, homemaker. It’s these ancestors – the ones who worked hard every single day of their lives, not because they chose to, but because they had to – these are the members of my family I admire the most.

~C.

Advertisements