How sweet it is -Sugar

Sugar has been known for millennia. Botanists suggests sugar was discovered in Papua, New Guinea and has been cultivated for 7000 years. (Wow!) From New Guinea, it traveled west, to India, where the Greeks discovered it. In Sanskrit the word for sugar is karkara. The name changed slightly as it passed through other cultures and ended up with the Arabs who called it sukkur. Not such a leap to sugar.

It was known in Medieval Europe but it was rare and expensive and used as a spice.

What about the Colonies? Well, by 1770 British (including the colonies, ate five times as much sugar as in 1710. That number only increased. At first sugar was used primarily in tea and coffee but was later added to baked goods (especially after the discovery that baking soda and cream of tartar formed a compound that raised quick breads) and candy.

Sugarcane is difficult to harvest (the cutter has to bend over and cut it close to the ground) and change from a sweet sap to granulated sugar. It is a very labor intensive process. The Portuguese have the dubious distinction of being the first to use African slaves but, once the sugar industry really got going in the West Indies, the British and especially the French jumped on the bandwagon. Napoleon’s Jacqueline had brown rotting front teeth from her habit of eating sugarcane.

So, what were the consequences? At the Whitney Plantation outside of New Orleans we saw the pots hung over fires that had to be stirred constantly to keep the juice from burning. This was a job usually reserved for slave children. Of all the jobs the slaves performed, this was probably the worst.

 

More about sugar, sugarcane, and rum next.

Goodreads Giveaway

I am excited to announce I am giving away 10 copies of Cradle to Grave. Of all the books I’ve written, this is my favorite. I began working on it just when my first grandson was born and my research into the poor laws and the plight of orphans made me acutely conscious of the vulnerability of children. Go on Goodreads to try for a copy.

Housework – cleaning – 1798

Besides all the other tasks involved in keeping house, wives also kept the house clean. As much as they were able – the standards of cleanliness were lower than ours. (I think women of the the past, both recent and long ago, would be stunned by the clorox infused wipes we use.) But there were no vacumn cleaners then, only brooms and they were mostly twigs or broom grass tied to a pole. The Shakers again invented a machine that tied on the straw for a more modern broom – and their brooms were highly prized.

But I digress.

The brooms had to be used to sweep the dirt and the floors were scrubbed on hands and knees with the harsh soap I mentioned earlier. What about carpets? Yes, they were swept. But every Spring well – run households had an annual and dreaded Spring Cleaning. All carpets were taken and beaten thoroughly to rid them of the accumulated dust, dirt and other unsavory objects.

Floors and windows, if the house had them, were washed and bedding was aired. Anything silver was polished, and not with the handy silver wipes either. Elbow grease was the common technique. Curtains were washed and rehung.

Children were impressed into helping and more affluent women hired help, usually unmarried girls from around the neighborhood. Spring cleaning usually took several days and contemporary accounts, especially from husbands, express frustration and annoyance at the disruption.

But the lot of women, and the work expected of them, was improving. See next week’s blog.

 

Goodreads Giveaway

I am giving away ten copies of Death of a Dyer, my second Will Rees mystery on Goodreads.

In this book, Rees returns to his hometown and tries to settle down. Lydia accompanies him as his housekeeper -both are not sure where their feelings might take them. David also returns home although he and his father are still at odds.

Rees has been home for only a short time when he is asked to look into the murder of a childhood friend.

9781250033963

American Politics – 1798

After George Washington signed the Jay Treaty with England, France was furious. The situation wasn’t helped by the fact that the US would not pay back the loans France had extended during the American Revolution. They argued that the loans were from the King and now that France was a Republic the loans were null and void.

In 1798 France began engaging in ‘hostile’ actions: i.e. rejecting American envoys and capturing American ships. These actions unleashed a wave of anti-French sentiment. It was feared there would be a war with France, “Millions for defense and not one cent for tribute” became the rallying cry.

This leads me to the Alien and Sedition Acts passed in the summer of 1798 by the Congress dominated Federalist (like our current Republicans). It became harder for an immigrant to become a citizen, allowed the President (Adams at this point who was also a Federalist) to imprison or deport non-citizens who were considered dangerous, and criminalized making critical statements about the federal government (this was the Sedition Act). The Federalists claimed this was to prevent anarchy.

The Republican-Democrats rose up in opposition, particularly the Republican-Democrat run newspapers. Under the new law many of the editors were imprisoned and fined.

James Thomas Callender called the Adams administration “a continual tempest of malignant passions” and the President a ‘repulsive pedant, a gross hypocrite and an unprincipled oppressor”. He was sentenced to nine months in jail and fined $200.00.

Benjamin Franklin Bache called the President “the blind, bald, crippled, toothless querulous Adams” of nepotism and monarchial ambition.

Many aliens fled the country. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, hoping to prevent the worst effects of the new laws, prepared a resolution declaring them null and void and giving the States the right to refuse to follow these laws. (This was done in secret and seems somewhat treasonous to me. Anyway, the resolution prepared by Jefferson and Madison ended up being important during the Civil War when the argument of States Rights gave the South a legal reason for secession – and also showing the importance of consequences. But I digress.)

There was tremendous opposition to the laws. Jefferson repealed some of them during his presidency and pardoned all who had been jailed under the law. Congress paid their fines. In fact, there was so much opposition, there were more Republican-Democratic editors afterward than before, in a kind of referendum on repression.
The law against seditious libel (calling a President blind and ambitious) was repealed and the during the following years the Supreme Court decided the it was in direct opposition to the First Amendment.

Several parts of the law, however, such as the sections relating to Alien Enemies, were NOT repealed. During WWII, FDR used the law to send Japanese descendants (62% who were citizens) to the internment camps. As late as 1947 Ellis Island continued to hold ethnic Germans.

These laws have not been repealed even now and Trump could use them, as he promised to do in 2015, to expel or imprison Muslims.

I don’t know why people think History is boring. Discouraging, maybe, because we fight the same battles over and over, but to me history always has lessons that reflect upon the present.

 

 

 

Christmas customs – 1790’s to now

 

We take so many Christmas customs for granted that we almost assume that they have always been enjoyed. Not so. A visit to Colonial Williamsburg, for example, reveals a village decorated with candles and evergreen boughs. Where are the trees splendid with glittering ornaments? Where are the Christmas cards?

From its early days, Christians celebrated the Nativity. The giving of presents, the decoration of the houses with evergreens, the suspension of enmity and the proclamation of peace were all features of the festival right from the beginning. (That is, with some interruptions. The Puritans thought the celebrations took away from the worship of God and banned all jollity.) Some of the customs common during this period aren’t so familiar to us now. The Lord of Misrule? What does that even mean? ( The Lord of Misrule was usually a servant or a slave who presided over the Christmas revels. He had the power to make anyone do anything during the season.  )The switching of masters and servants ?

It is true some of our traditions have roots stretching back to antiquity. Caroling, for example, has been a feature of the season since the middle ages. Wreaths also have a long history. The Etruscans used wreaths, a tradition that continued into Ancient Greece and Rome. The different plants symbolized different virtues. Oak leaves meant wisdom. Laurel leaves were used to crown winners. Our evergreen wreaths are constructed of evergreens to represent everlasting life. The Advent wreath, with its white candles, was first used by Lutherans in Germany in the 16th century.

What about the hanging of stockings?

Well, this tradition has a long history. According to some historians, this is a custom that stretches all the way back to Odin. Children put out their boots filled with food for Odin’s horse to eat and Odin would reward them with gifts or candy. Like so many pagan customs, the practice was adopted and Christianized. Hanging stockings became connected with Saint Nicholas.

So, let’s talk about Old Saint Nick, known in the US as Santa Claus.

The modern Santa Claus grew out of Saint Nicholas, a fourth century bishop, as well as the German Christkind and the Dutch Sinterklaus. Christmas had been personified -made into a person – as early as the fifteenth century but the modern Santa Claus in his red suit is a nineteenth century creation that has been added onto over the years. Now even several reindeer have names, courtesy of the poem “The Night Before Christmas” (originally titled “A visit from Saint Nicholas) by Clement Clarke Moore. The Santa Claus so beloved of today’s children had not been invented yet.

Other nineteenth century inventions include the Tree, the lights on the tree and Christmas cards, Although known in England before Queen Victoria married Prince Albert,  it did not achieve its popularity until the Queen adopted it. Like so many British customs, this one crossed the Atlantic. Our Christmas lights are descended from the candles used to decorate the tree in Christian homes in early modern Germany. And the first commercial Christmas cards were not created until 1843. And that was in England. Cards did not cross the Atlantic until 1874.

Nutcracker dolls were known as early as the seventeenth century but were not connected to Christmas until later.

So Will Rees and his family would not have been familiar with most of the customs we think of as essential to the Celebration of the holiday. And more customs continue to be created. In my family, the holiday is not complete without a showing of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.