A fine young southern woman with an upper class pedigree in the 1830’s through the 1860’s was expected to prepare a tasty and satisfying evening meal. Tasks include seeing to it that slaves get wood for the fire, while she would begin cutting winter vegetables, toasting cheese, mulling cider, preparing roast pork and chicken fricassee, stuffing and cooking sausage, producing Marlborough Pudding and either a ‘Lincoln’ or a ‘Washington’ cake, and roasting coffee over the fire to be served with wafers and whipped cream for dessert.

At the end of the meal, all will take away recipes, known as “receipts” in 19th century America, for the hearty dishes they have made.

Family and Daily Life: Introduction


As a young girl of about 11, Lucy Ann Lobdell “had the charge of some hundred chickens, turkeys, and geese, that I used to raise and sell, and then I had half the money I. made in that business and in tending the dairy…In consequence of my keeping poultry, I learned to shoot the hawk, the weasel, the mink, and even down to the rat.”

Lucy Ann Lobdell, tells her story here in an excerpt from her book published in 1855, Narrative of Lucy Ann Lobdell, the Female Hunter of Delaware and Sullivan Counties, NY. A prisoner of her place and time, she relates that dressing as a man and hunting for her livelihood was the best way she could support herself after being deserted by her  abusive lumberjack husband. Lucy was famous by the age of 17 in Delaware, NY for her marksmanship with the rifle.  When her husband abandoned her and their newborn child, she left the baby with her poor parents and began the life of a hunter.  She roamed the woods and built rudimentary cabins.  She returned home for a spell, then left again, assuming a male name and become a music teacher.  Years later she entered the poor-house and met her female companion Marie Louise Perry Wilson.  In 1869 the two appeared as the couple, Rev. Joseph Israel Lobdell and his wife in Pennsylvania.  They were arrested as nuisances, Lucy as the male preacher was rambling scriptures and calling herself a prophet.

70 miles north of Lucy’s hunting grounds near Hancock, NY, Susan Fenimore Cooper of Cooperstown, daughter of the well-known author James Fenimore Cooper, represents a life free from want. Excerpts from her book, Rural Hours, published in 1850, provide an in-depth view of nature from the pen of one with the luxury of time to write of such mundane matters.

Perhaps a more typical woman’s story would be that of Eliza Mead of Walton, NY.  Eliza kept a diary from 1853 to 1869; her diary tells her daily routine from sewing to visiting friends to traveling to Richfield Springs seeking a cure for some mysterious malady. George Jayne, a student at Fergusonville Academy in Fergusonville, NY, wrote his sister Charlotte back home in Orange, NJ describing his life at school (ball was his favorite sport). Seeking a brighter future in California, Harvey Seaman, tells his tale of trip by sail around Cape Horn in 1851; he wondered if he would ever see his family and friends again. John Teed from Tompkins, Delaware County received a letter in 1819 from his brother in Chester, NY informing him that a family member, James Teed, had been hung for murder. Samuel Sherwood in 1842 wrote to his son William in Delhi a letter any father might have written: he wanted to know what William planned to do with his life (and offered some suggestions).

What was life like for people in the rural Delaware County New York area prior to the Civil War? In general, people made do with less than we have today. Agriculture provided the backbone for the economy in the Delaware County area. In the earliest part of the period, farm people lived at a subsistence level. Food, clothing, and other necessities were produced at home whenever possible. Gardens, farm crops, wild fruits, orchards, and livestock supplied food. Family members, generally men a

nd boys, often hunted and fished. Since no refrigerators existed, preservation entailed storing the produce in root cellars or by drying or salting. Ice, harvested from lakes and ponds in winter, was kept from melting in ice houses lined with a heavy layer of sawdust. Not only could ice be used to keep food from spoiling, ice cream provided an occasional summer treat. Home produced fabric (wool or linen) often supplied money for the family in a cash scarce economy.  Due to the immense amount of labor that went into the production of cloth, worn-out clothing acquired new use as a rag. Less affluent people sometimes went barefoot whenever fashion/practicality/weather allowed–illustrations from the time often show barefoot children. Farmers could pay cash for the products they purchased at local stores; however, some stores would also take farm produce such as rye, wheat, butter, eggs, beeswax, deacon skins, rags, dried apples or whatever else the farmer had available.  Farm people may not have always had much, but they realized there were others less fortunate. Delhi farmer Nathanial Arbuckle wrote poignantly in his diary, December 31, 1854:

This is the Last Day of the year 1854 and a Beautyful Sabbath it is     It has Been a Very Dry warm Summer with Light Crops Making Provision high     the Sufferings of the Poor very Greate

but we who till the Soil for a Living   whose heards give Milk    whose fields Give bread    whose flockes Suply us with Atire   whose trees in Summer yeald us Shade + in winter fire  have no reason to Complain but have Cause for thankfulness that we are as well Provided for as we are     therefore let us be thankful

But not everyone worked as a farmer. Then, as now, people had businesses that created relative wealth for a few individuals. The wealthy could afford whatever meat and produce were available; fabrics such as silk and cotton could be purchased by anyone who could afford them. Tailors created garments in the latest fashion.  Food and dry goods purchased by local merchants in New York City were resold in local stores. By the mid-nineteenth century, factory made products lowered the cost so even middle income people could afford factory made fabrics and utensils. Considering the relative geographic isolation of the area, the variety of goods is remarkable.  Fish from the Hudson River, oranges, lemons, coffee, chocolate, rice, tobacco, figs, and molasses were imported from New York City.  A student at Fergusonville Academy asked for a care package with a favorite treat: prunes. Tavern keepers purchased liquor from New York City or from local brewers. No legal drinking age had been established. Alcohol abuse beca

me such a problem that temperance (anti-drinking) organizations evolved.

Electricity had not yet been harnessed as an energy source to be used in the home. Imagine a home with no electric lights, washing machines, refrigerators, televisions, or computers. Candles provided the main source of artificial light until 1858 when kerosene from Pennsylvania became available (those who could afford it also used whale oil lamps). Indoor plumbing as we know it did not exist. Although a few farm houses in the hill country had spring water running through them, most houses and barns did not have running water. Or, to put it differently, the running was done by a person, not by a machine. Hand pumps placed over shallow wells provided lots of exercise for whomever had the task of pumping water. Hollowed out logs (pump logs) sometimes served as water pipes. People generally did not take showers. Whole body bathing required bringing in buckets of water from a spring or other water source, heating the water on a wood stove or over a fireplace, then dumping the water into whatever container was to be used for bathing. Daily (or even weekly) whole body bathing was not the norm for many individuals. People often washed themselves with water from a large bowl; the contents of the bowl were then dumped into a slop pail which was emptied outdoors. Clothes, when and if they were washed at all, were washed by hand with a washboard. Long skirts had hem tapes that could be removed for cleaning without washing the entire garment.  Since no clothe

1855 illustration of boy, kitten, woman

s driers existed, clothes were sometimes spread on the grass to dry in the summer sun.  People living in the subsistence mode made their own soap using lye and animal fat. Those who could afford it could buy soap at the local dry goods store. The lack of running water indoors also meant that no indoor toilets as we know them existed.  Outhouses (usually located near the house) contained a hole dug in the ground covered with a wooden toilet seat. When nature called in the middle of the night (it might be cold and dark outside depending on the season, the weather, and the phase of the moon), people would use a chamber pot (a ceramic or metal bowl). The contents were dumped into the outhouse in the morning.   The job of emptying slop pails and chamber pots often went to young children (in the case of less-affluent families) or hired help (due to the huge number of immigrants from places such as Ireland during the mid-nineteenth century, even middle income families could sometimes afford domestic help).  The poor sanitation caused diseases such as cholera and typhoid to spread very rapidly at times.  Infectious diseases sometimes wiped out many family members in a short time.

Communication devices such as telephones, radios, television, and the Internet had not been invented. Family members often would wait months before they would get a handwritten letter from a loved one; family members lived in Europe as well as distant territories such as Wisconsin, Minnesota, and California.  News to the Delaware County area from the outside world traveled via letters and newspapers by way of stagecoaches and later, railroads. (The New York and Erie Railroad, with a station in Hancock, was completed in 1848). For example, in the mid-nineteenth century mail from New York City to Delhi would travel by steamboat up the Hudson River and then be transferred to a horse-powered stagecoach in Catskill where it would be hauled by way of the Catskill/Susquehanna Turnpike over the mountains to Delhi. Taverns, located every mile or so along the major roads, provided the opportunity for word-of-mouth communication.

By necessity, traditional farm families worked close together as a unit of production.  Each member of the family, including children, had a role to play in insuring the economic survival of the family. Families tended to be larger than today.  Not only were extra hands always needed on the farm, but the mortality rate for infants and children was high. Many women died in childbirth. Divorce was rare; the death of a spouse rather than divorce most likely ended marriage and set the stage for remarriage.

The antebellum Victorian culture gave rise to the Cult of True Womanhood which depicted piety, purity, submissiveness, and domesticity as the cardinal feminine virtues.  Then as now, however, not all lifestyles conformed to the cultural norm.  Lucy Ann Lobdell, for example, obviously ventured beyond the gender sphere prescribed by the Cult of True Womanhood.  Likewise, the Fugine Society (anti-church and free love) in Davenport  mentioned briefly in Munsell’s History of Delaware County and John Humphrey Noyes’ Oneida Community deviated from the sexual repression common to the Victorians. Nonetheless, the familial norm in Victorian America and the microcosm of Delaware County was the two-parent/dependent children nuclear family.  The primary material further illuminates structure, function, and emotions in daily life. (.www.oneonta.edu)


Come de daybreak you hear de guinea fowls start potracking down at the edge of de woods lot, and den de roosters all start up ’round de barn and de ducks finally wake up and jine in. You can smell de sow belly frying down at the cabins in de “row,” to go wid de hoecake and de buttermilk.

Den purty soon de wind rise a little, and you can hear a old bell donging way on some plantation a mile or two off, and den more bells at other places and maybe a horn, and purty soon younder go old Master’s old ram horn wid a long toot and den some short toots, and here come de overseer down de row of cabins, hollering right and left, and picking de ham out’n his teeth wid a long shiny goose quill pick.

Bells and horns! Bells for dis and horns for dat! All we knowed was go and come by de bells and horns!

Iffen I could see better out’n my old eyes, and I had me something to work with and de feebleness in my back and head would let me ‘lone, I would have me plenty to eat in de kitchen all de time, and plenty tobaccy in my pipe, too, bless God!..

“Marse Tom been dead long time now. I ‘lieve he’s in hell. Seem like that where he ‘long. He was a terrible mean man and had a indiff’ent, mean wife. But he had the fines’, sweetes’ chillun the Lawd ever let live and breathe on this earth. They’s so kind and sorrowin’ over us slaves.

“Some them chillun used to read us li’l things out of papers and books. We’d look at them papers and books like they somethin’ mighty curious, but we better not let Marse Tom or his wife know it!

“One woman name Rhodie runs off for long spell. De hounds won’t hunt her. She steals hot light bread** when dey puts it in de window to cool, and lives on dat. She told my mammy how to keep de hounds from followin’ you is to take black pepper and put it in you socks and run without you shoes. It make de hounds sneeze.

“One day I’s in de woods and meets de nigger runawayer. He comes to de cabin and mammy makes him a bacon and egg sandwich and we never seed him again. Maybe he done got clear to Mexico, where a lot of de slaves runs to.

(source: Irish Immigrant Workers in Antebellum New York:
The Experience of Domestic Servants at Van Buren’s Lindenwald

By Patricia West )

Ralph Waldo Emerson speculated on the relationship between antebellum class-based political
strife and the “servant problem” in 1840:
The case of the menaced & insulted monarch is not quite aloof from our own experience .
. . For see this wide society in which we talk of [the interests of] laboring men [and yet]
we allow ourselves to be served by them. We pay them money & then turn our backs on
them . . . [T]his tree always bears one fruit. In every household the peace of the pair is
poisoned by the malice, slyness, indolence, & alienation of domestics. In every knot of
laborers or boys the rich man . . . does not feel himself among friends but . . . enemies[,]
and at the polls he finds them arrayed in a mass in distinct opposition to him. Yet all these
are but signs of an opposition of interest more deep which give[s] a certain insecurity &
terror to all his enjoyments[,] for he feels himself an insulted & hated noble.

Some years before, then-President Van Buren had purchased a plain but commodious Federal-
style brick house in Kinderhook, New York, that he renamed Lindenwald. Urged on by his
fashion-conscious son, Smith Thompson Van Buren, the ex-president hired sought-after architect
Richard Upjohn to renovate the house in 1849. An amazing metamorphosis resulted: the
formerly stolid house now sported a rather imposing Italianate tower, copious Gothic Revival
details, and a puzzle of a floor plan featuring numerous additional rooms and halls. This was the
Lindenwald the house servants of this study knew, a Federal house in eclectic Victorian garb. It
was the perfect analogy to the aging Van Buren, the Jeffersonian cum Jacksonian whose political
career had risen and fallen in accordance with the vast cultural changes that swept the first half of
America’s nineteenth century.

At Lindenwald, Van Buren entered a new phase of life as a retired statesman and gentleman
farmer. The home of the gregarious Van Buren, a widower with four sons, was regularly filled
with visiting family and friends. However, documents describing his formal parlors and lavish
dinners also imply the other side of the coin of Victorian life: that of the domestic servant.
Recognition of the lives of house servants has the potential to historicize the romantic image of
antebellum culture and politics to which house museums have so often subscribed.  A domestic’s hours of work were long and somewhat irregular) depending upon the wishes of the
employer. The lack of leisure had a generally negative impact on the health of servants. [20]
Most servants worked from sunrise to sunset, at least ten hours a day, with a full day averaging
eleven to twelve hours. In this period a full day off for servants was rare; generally servants had
one evening or half-day off per week. Servants were always “on call,” because houses like
Lindenwald had extensive bell systems reaching even into servants’ bedrooms. Domestics were
ignored as some organized workers achieved legislation for shortened work hours, a measure
Van Buren had supported.

At Lindenwald, adjacent to the basement kitchen, there remains what has been identified as a servants’ dining room, rather generously decorated with flowered wallpaper. More commonly servants ate,
worked, and snatched leisure moments in the busy kitchen.

When a servant’s day was finally through, she retired to her quarters. Typically, servants’ rooms
were either in the attic or the basement, and they were furnished with family cast-offs — a bed,
perhaps a chair and a washstand, probably no carpets, curtains, or architectural decoration. These
contrasts reinforced the social distance between employer and servant. Servants’ rooms lacked
the privacy enjoyed by employers; not only were they vulnerable to the intrusions of the call bell)
they were often shared with other servants. [23] At Lindenwald, there are three adjoining
servants’ rooms on the attic floor. The midcentury alterations included dormers, which converted
the low-ceilinged garret to livable rooms. The whitewashed plaster walls and pine floors are in
dramatic contrast to family areas. Rows of pegs on the walls suggest the absence of chests of
drawers and a meager wardrobe. Even with twentieth-century heating, the rooms are hot in
summer and cold in winter. There are no fireplaces in these rooms, no furnace ducts, and no
evidence of stoves.

Given the close living conditions, it is not surprising that conflict was endemic to domestic
service. Van Buren rendered his perspective on one such clash at Lindenwald:
The two women I made swear eternal friendship got jealous of each other, the cook could
no longer keep down the Devil that I saw in the corner of her eye when she first arrived . .
. and I have sort of a Riot downstairs. Finding that soft words were of no effect I assumed
toward them an aspect more sour and ferocious than you can imagine, suspended the cook

and a very devout Irish chambermaid, who with all her piety is a devil of a bully . . . The female waiter has escaped unhurt . . . Referring to such an intra-household conflict as a “Riot” was a potent metaphor with significant political connotations, as antebellum New York had been plagued by Catholic/Protestant riots. America’s social stratification was manifested within affluent nineteenth-century American homes by the layout of rooms, halls, and decorative effects. House design expressed the
fundamental American uneasiness with the concept of domestic service through concerted
attempts to minimize direct contact between the family and servants. Halls separating work areas
from (“family” areas, servants’ quarters tucked away in awkward places, back stairs and servants’
entrances all comprised an effort to make servants and housework virtually invisible to the
family. [26] Lindenwald’s architecture incorporates this nineteenth-century predilection. A basement door on the west side of the house probably served as the servants’ entrance. The tower stairs, sharply
circular, steep, and narrow, served as the back stairs and the only access to the servants’ quarters,
connecting them directly to the basement work areas. Popular nineteenth-century architectural
oracle Andrew Jackson Downing claimed servants’ stairs added “greatly to the comfort and
privacy of even small villas.” He was referring, of course, to the comfort and privacy of
employers. In nineteenth-century architecture, the segregation of the family from housework took
precedence over efficiency, thanks to that ubiquitous “Victorian labor-saving device,” a large
staff of servants.

Space between dining rooms and kitchens, designed, in the language of architects, to “protect” the
family from experiencing the sounds and smells of cooking. It was argued that servants’ rooms
ought to be “entirely separate” from “main” areas, and that servants should have access to these
“main” areas only through “passages.” [28] Lindenwald, fashionable home that it was,
incorporates all of these standards to some extent. Thus, as Daniel Sutherland puts it, servants
were “in the household but not of it.” [29] They constituted a separate society within a society,
inhabiting especially awkward and uncomfortable spaces while tending to the comfort of others,
forced to recognize the glaring contrasts between two distinct lifestyles under one roof.
Some servants, however, rarely required access to “main” areas of the house. Cooks and scullions
spent most of their time in the kitchen, which in the northeastern United States was frequently in
the basement. Lindenwald’s cooks labored countless hours in the basement kitchen, with its
plastered stone walls and tiny windows. A sink and hand pump were located in the southwest
corner of the room. On the north wall, a Gothic-style coal-burning Moses Pond Union cookstove,

manufactured about 1850 in Boston, still stands near a brick bake oven. [30] Very little evidence exists toe indicate precisely how the kitchen was furnished. If typical, it would have been a hot,

crowded room, sooty and dirty by our standards, with cupboards, work tables, and perhaps a chair or two. [31]

Commercial cleaning products were virtually unknown at this time, the task accomplished instead by sand, salt, camphor, lye, vinegar, and various homemade mixtures of these. Advice manuals suggested two thorough cleanings per week, and daily sweeping and wiping. Sinks were scalded with lye, work surfacesrubbed with old cotton, windows rinsed, floors mopped, and tools cleaned.

Lindenwald was also typical in the distancing of the kitchen and the servants’ quarters from
rooms inhabited by employers, a practice analogous, in fact, to tendencies in urban
neighborhoods. Nineteenth-century architecture emphasized the importance of assuring adequate distance…a diet including mutton, potatoes, and root vegetables in winter, and fresh fish and vegetables in
summer. Lindenwald had a wine cellar, a pantry, a larder, and a root cellar.

The rare descriptions of Van Buren formal dinners lend further insight:

The Dish before him contained a fine ham; then comes twos side dishes of potatoes and
peas; then an enormous one of fricasee: then potatoes and peas with a sprinkling of butter,
cucumber, and then in front of John another supply of fricasee. Four bottles of champagne
completed the carte for the first course. The second was pies, custard, jelly, of excellent
make, and the third of fine-flavored seegars! At Lindenwald, family dining occurred in one of two places. Informal family dining was held in the “breakfast room” adjoining a stairway leading to the basement. Formal dinners were staged in the ornate center hall, featuring a table that could be extended to seat more than twenty people. A banquet of this magnitude would have presented considerable trouble to the servants, particularly the waitress, who would have been called upon to carry laden and precious trays from the basement kitchen, up a narrow set of stairs, and further on a circuitous route through rooms and
halls. The actual serving and eating of food was a complex, mannered ritual in the nineteenth century.

The availability of servants contributed to an increasingly elaborate and coded etiquette, the
mastery of which created an ever larger rift between the deportment of employers and servants.
[35] Emerson discovered this in 1841, when he invited his servants to regularly join the family at
dinner. They surprised him by refusing; the cook explained that she was “never fit to come to
table.” [36] When all of the dishes had been carried into the kitchen for washing, the parlormaid’s work
began. The parlormaid cleaned and ordered the main floor rooms: hallways, libraries, drawing
rooms, and parlors. The work of the nineteenth-century parlormaid was similar to that of the
cook in that technical innovations had not resulted in a reduction in the amount of work, because
these improvements were accompanied by a concurrent rise in standards of cleanliness and
display. [37] Household tasks multiplied as machine-made upholstery and ornate furnishings
filled prosperous homes. Lindenwald’s Brussels carpets, mohair upholstery, and carved furniture
bespeak a life of unremitting dusting and sweeping for the parlormaid, as well as the changes in
the industrial economy that made these goods available in remarkable abundance.
Upstairs, chambers were typically aired and dusted daily after the family went to breakfast.
Chamberpots were emptied and cleaned. Advice books suggested that the servant be instructed to
quietly smuggle the chamberpots downstairs, as the family had “sensitive feelings” to be
considered. Next, fireplaces were cleaned and washbasins emptied. Beds were made; soap,
towels, and candles were resupplied. A servant’s last duty in the bedchambers was to supply them
with warm water and fresh drinking water. [38] Of all household tasks, none elicited more complaints than laundry, a chore redoubled by complicated and delicate Victorian clothing. If a household could afford to hire only one servant, it was someone to help with this hated chore. Lindenwald’s 1850 addition contains what Upjohn called the “wash room.” A lead-lined sink with a hand pump stood in the southwest corner of the room. Although there were advances in technology in this period (pumps, hand-cranked ringers, sinks with drains), washing machines had not come into general use. [39] Water was heated on
the stove, and wash was done in tubs using a stick and a washboard. Nineteenth-century laundry An order for household tools for Lindenwald included sadirons and stands. Since no evidence of a stove exists in this room, wash was probably done on the stove in the adjacent kitchen.

The Lindenwald servants, after a long day of labor, had little time or opportunity for recreation.
Though it was a lovely estate, young Irish women most certainly would have missed the
communities of friends and family in urban areas. Acknowledgments This article was originally presented as a paper for a symposium, “Those Who Served: Domestic Servitude in Rural New York, 1776-1930,” held at Bard College on November 16, 1991, and sponsored by the Hudson Valley Studies Program at Bard College and the Friends of Clermont, with funding from the New York State Council on the Humanities.


http://www.sonsofthesouth.net – an excellent resource for Civil War History, photos, newspaper clippings, etc. for Mexican War as well.