Life in the 18th century was very much different from life as we all know it today. The pioneers who migrated from Pennsylvania down The Great Wagon Road were optimistic and filled with hope. They brought with them important items that pertained to their well-being, their faith and their sentimental values. While they endured the hard trip, many would face great hardships and losses in the near future. This segment will focus on the settler’s lives and living on the Carolina frontier.
The Yadkin River is pictured above with Pilot Mountain in the foreground. West of the Yadkin River was not very popular during the mid 18th century. So, for many of our ancestors, the Yadkin River was the line between settlements and wilderness. Once the land was chosen by the head of the family, namely, the father, the family began unloading their belongings. Trees would fall in order for a new home to shelter the family and the livestock. Farming would begin almost immediately. 90% of our ancestors were farmers and they farmed in all seasons if weather permitted. The man of the house was expected to provide food and shelter for his family. In order to accomplish this, farming was essential to the way of life for everyone.
The piedmont area of North Carolina was once the hunting and grazing lands of the Cherokee. The land was fertile and plentiful. The pioneers would select huge land tracts and begin improvements. The family unit was vital to the survival of the early settlers. Everyone in the family had a job to do on a daily basis. It was up to the father of the house to oversee these chores and to make sure they were completed to his fashion.
The wife, or the lady of the house would be responsible for the family garden and herbs. She would also be required to prepare the meals and tend to the smaller children. Clothing would be made by her, also milking the cows and washing the garments as well. The mother would also be required to educate her daughters with the knowledge they would need for their future families. Any possessions she had prior to marriage would belong to her husband until his death. Once the husband died, the wife would inherit 1/3 of his property and could legally own it until she remarried or died.
The children would all wear dresses until they reached the age of 5, give or take a year or two. These little ones were allowed to freely play at their leisure and either the mother or an older sister would tend to their needs daily. As the children grew older, their responsibilities and their daily routines would change. The boys would go with their father to learn about farming, livestock, hunting and more while the girls would be with their mother to learn of sewing, cooking, gardening, etc.
A sample of a daily chore list:
Baby Elizabeth-age 1 plays with her corn husk doll
George-age 3 follows his older sister, Mary and tries to help
Adam-age 6 gathers wood and cleans the chicken house
Mary-age 10 finishes her sampler, milks the cow, gathers eggs, helps to feed livestock and helps tend to Baby Elizabeth
Christina-age 13 sews linens, pulls weeds in the garden, prepares beans for drying, attends fire at smokehouse.
John-age 15 tending wheat field, attends to livestock, checks on hogs in woods and hunts in the afternoon
Henry-age 17 is harvesting corn from the upper field
Michael-age 19 is with his father clearing new land for a larger corn crop next season
Elizabeth-age 41 is washing clothes, cleaning the home and preparing venison that John brought home the day before
Michael-age 43 is clearing land with his son and begins preparing for a trip to the mill in the morning with a portion of his corn crop-a full day trip
As you can see, one day in the 18th century required a huge amount of work, dedication and responsibility. The weather played a vital role in the farmer’s life. The fields could only yield what the weather would allow. Farmers based their success on the success of their crops. Wheat and corn were planted in huge tracts.
Wheat allowed flour to be made and corn allowed cornmeal to be made. The family garden consisted of white beans, chard, pumpkins, scarlet runner beans, cucumbers, squash, peppers, carrots, peas, cabbage and lettuce. Herbs were also planted such as horehound, sage, nasturtium, hyssop and winter savory. Many settlers used limewater as a natural pesticide on their plants. Wooden traps were created to entice slugs and snails. They would also carry water to their gardens during dry and hot summers.
Usually, the settler would clear three fields keeping two active and the third one fallowed or unused. This method would allow the field to rest in between planting. Some farmers, however, believed that planting turnips in a fallowed field would restore nutrients back into the land. The turnips allowed food for the livestock or they were traded or sold. The livestock would be butchered in early winter to endure the family through the harsh colder days of winter. These settlers, for the most part, were already adapting to the winters of Carolina much better versus the Pennsylvania’s winters.
To the 18th century farmer, there were many obstacles that stood in his way of progress. Sickness could overwhelm the family such as a smallpox outbreak. From the Moravaian diaries, we find that such an epidemic occurred in the piedmont area of Carolina in the spring of 1759. The incubation period was usually 2 weeks and then the person would have a high fever with blisters appearing if they survived the fever. Smallpox was capable of destroying entire communities. Fire was also a huge threat. Lightening strikes were very common and a family could lose all of their possessions in a matter of minutes.
The farmer depended on his neighbors for help with harvesting, building and any large project that he himself, with his family, could not handle alone. Neighboring events would also provide entertainment with music, dancing and the partake of distilled spirits. Local news would be shared with neighbors and friends as well in order to keep up with the latest events.
One of the most important items belonging to the first settlers appears to be their family Bible. Many churches were organized during the mid 18th century, telling us that faith and religion were vital to the pioneers. On the Carolina Frontier, they all were able to freely worship and practice their religion beliefs. Through hard work and being faithful to their religion, the first settlers believed they would all prevail and succeed on the frontier.
Tracing our family heritage not only contains names and dates, it also provides a link to a life that once was filled with details, chores, happiness and heartfelt losses. Thank you so much for your support of Piedmont Trails and join us again on the next blog when we begin to hear shouts of liberty from Carolina patriots and the onset of the Revolutionary War.