Review of The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in Colonial America

For the writer who is researching a novel on Colonial America, this is an invaluable tool. It is easy to read, indexed well and gives a quick overview of hundreds of topics of everyday life in the American Colonies. So many non fiction reference guides are so in depth and interested in looking scholarly, that they are useless. Dale Taylor has done a terrific job of sharing everything from trades in the Colonies to cooking, from clothing to firearms, from travel to housing. For some reason, it is currently unavailable on Amazon, but I am sure this is only temporary. It has been a staple at my house for many years. I highly recommend it.

The Awakening Land

Link to books on  Amazon

Conrad Richter-The Trees, The Fields, The Town

This is the Awakening Land Trilogy of Conrad Richter and I believe it is some of the best writing of the 20th Century. I never knew that his work existed until the 1980’s when I happened to watch the miniseries starring Elizabeth Montgomery(remember Bewitched?) and fell in love with the story. He captures the day to day life and problems of everyday people on the Ohio frontier with such richness, intensity and drama that to this day I still think about his characters. Memorable scenes from his books have had a profound influence my writing. He traces the evolution of an Ohio settlement from the early days of hardship in the wilderness to the prosperous development of a town years later, a theme and evolution which is repeated time again across our entire continent. In 1951, he was award Pulitzer Prize for this work.

Writers Guide to the 18th Century-Christmas in British and French Colonial America

Christmas in British and French Colonial America

This article stems from research done for the historical novels, The Pride of the King and Beyond the Cliffs of Kerry available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

The English and the French that settled Colonial America brought long standing Christmas traditions of spiritual celebration, feasting, games, music and dancing to the New World. With this new landscape and lifestyle they incorporated Old World traditions into new celebrations, some of which still exist today.

While the English Puritans and devout Anglicans observed only the spiritual aspects of Christmas, many groups were far more liberal with feasting and music. Those with wealth gave elaborate balls and sponsored fox hunts as the ordinary colonist prepared special meals of turkey, roast beef, root vegetables and wassail, syllabub or cider.

English homes were decorated with evergreen or ivy on the mantle and around the windows, accented with pinecones and berries. These embellishments were simple by our standards today. Wreathes were fashioned of natural New World materials, such as dried fruit, shells and feathers. Flowers and aromatic herbs were scattered throughout the house as well. The tradition of the Christmas tree was not observed until the mid-nineteenth century by the Germans.

The ancient tradition of burning a Yule log was brought to the New World too. To honor Christ bringing light to the world, a huge slow burning log was thrown onto the grate adding not only warmth but as a celebration of the savior’s gift of light.  Burning a blaze of candles on Christmas Eve by the colonists was another way to symbolize Christ’s light of the world as well.

The Christmas season extended until Epiphany on January 6th. At that time landholders threw lavish balls and gave servants and slaves small gifts. The widespread gift giving we observe today was not traditional in English or French Colonial America.

The French also brought their Christmas traditions to the New World. There was feasting, music and games and they too decorated their homes and churches with pine boughs and berries and pinecones.

The Christmas Nativity or Crèche was an essential element of Christmas for the French and these figurines were placed in many homes and churches. The colonists were unable to construct elaborate statues of the Holy Family, so instead fashioned the Nativity out of corn husks and the stable out of bark and straw.

Predominantly Roman Catholic, the French started their Christmas celebration with midnight Mass followed by a Reveillon, or party. After attending Mass, parishioners would file back to their homes holding candles or torches where the feasting and dancing would commence. The French table consisted of turkey, la tourtiere, a traditional holiday meat pie, wine and a Buche de Noel, a cake shaped like the Yule log. The dining and dancing would last well until dawn. The Reveillon is still observed today among the French Canadians, and by many French families in Louisiana.

The French New Year was observed with La Guiannee. Young men disguised as woodland animals would beg food and drink from the wealthy residents of the village and these items would then be served at a Twelfth Night feast and dance a week later. This tradition like so many of the Christmas traditions of English and French Colonial America still survive today in one form or another.

Writers Guide to the 18th Century:The Illinois Country of French Colonial America

Writers Guide: The Illinois Country of French Colonial America
This article stems from research done for the historical novel, The Pride of the King, copyright 2011, available on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

The saying, “History is written by those who conquer,” seems to be true especially in relation to the French establishing colonies in America. In their rush to write the history of European settlements in Early America, English speaking historians have neglected to teach that the earliest colonies of North America were French colonies along the Mississippi River called the Illinois Country.Today the area is in the states of Illinois and Missouri. Many of the towns still bear their original names such at Ste. Geneviève, Kaskaskia and Cahokia. The name, The Illinois Country comes from the name of the indigenous people of the area, the Illinois Indians.

The voyageurs of French Canada were the first to explore the rugged back country. They traded with the Indian people and transported furs via waterways back to Quebec where they were shipped to France for hats and garments.

In his explorations and mission work, Father Jacques Marquette of France founded the first settlement of the Illinois Country at the junction of the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. The village was named Kaskaskia. Most of the original inhabitants of the mission village were Illinois and Peoria tribes. Over time, many of the Illinois women married French voyageurs, settled down and formed the nucleus of what would later become the Illinois Country.

Over time European settlers of French background migrated to the area from Canadian settlements to escape the hardships of severe winters. Others migrated up the Mississippi from the harsh, disease ridden Gulf region around New Orleans.

In 1717, the Company of the Indies was established in the Illinois Country which encouraged agriculture and mining and brought colonists from France and slaves from Africa. In 1731, the company built several forts, began clearing land and established a town at the base of the Mississippi named New Orleans.

The villages thrived and eventually grain and minerals from the Illinois country were shipped downriver to New Orleans in bateaux, flat bottom crafts, paddled by voyageurs and local townspeople. On the return trip supplies needed from France were transported back up the river to the Illinois Country.

Early in the 18th Century villages grew into towns, forts and log cabins sprang up as well as churches, shops and inns. Nevertheless, the French government did not have the same passion for colonization that the British did. If the French had encouraged growth in the Illinois Country and New Orleans, the face of a continent would be different today.
Many of the settlers participated in the French and Indian war and after the war the settlement in the Mississippi Valley fell under English rule. Gradually numbers dropped in the region due to several factors, recent English rule, flooding and erosion along the banks of the Mississipi.

In 1778 during the American Revolution, George Rogers Clark lead an offensive against the Illinois Country annexing the area from the British for Virginia. At this time the Illinois Country ceased to be a European colony and was now part of the new American nation.

Writing about people with Disabilities in Colonial America

This article stems from research done for the historical novel The Pride of the King by Amanda Hughes published on Copyright July 2011.

Very little has been written about people with disabilities living in Colonial America. Medical care was practically non-existent, disease was rampant and living conditions sub-standard. It is safe to assume that disabilities occurred at a rate higher in the 18th Century than today, yet little is known about the reaction of residents and solutions for people with disabilities in Early America.

Many Colonial Americans shunned people who suffered from physical and mental difficulties, but it is suggested that the less severe the affliction, the more accepted they were in the New World. Accidents, genetic diseases and illnesses rendered many people disabled to different degree. The majority made adaptations, living full lives within the community.

Some of our most renowned citizens of Colonial America overcame or adapted to disabilities. Thomas Jefferson, Washington Irving and Cotton Mather had speech difficulties. The renowned artist John Brewster Jr. was deaf, Colonel William Prescott was visually impaired and Stephen Hopkins, who signed the Declaration of Independence, had Cerebral Palsy. He is quoted as saying when he signed the famous document, “My hand trembles, my heart does not.”

Those who suffered most severely from debilitating disabilities were frequently treated with segregation and inequality. Families often kept family members with disabilities at home, hidden behind closed doors, particularly those who suffered from mental illness. At the time many believed that people who were mentally ill were possessed by demons, and they were shunned and feared.

Residents of Early America who did not have families to help them went homeless. Leaders addressed this problem initially by paying individuals in the community to house these individuals in a foster care setting. If they were able to live on their own, the counties provided them with funds to get shelter, feed and clothe themselves. Unfortunately many recipients of county assistance had to wear a red or blue letter “P” on their chest which stood for poverty, alerting all to their misfortune.

In the 1700’s larger cities in Colonial America began erecting almshouses. They were funded by the counties or charitable organizations, such as the Quakers in Philadelphia. The Colony of New York had almshouses in Albany and New York City as early as 1650. Overseers from the county almshouse roamed the streets looking for homeless people, while others voluntarily sought shelter there. The almshouses were frequently workhouses for criminals as well, so people who had disabilities were housed with the poor, the homeless and with criminals. Everyone worked in the almshouses, sewing, weaving and farming in return for food and shelter.

The almshouse solution, taking different names, would endure in this country until the 1960’s.