Home Life

A Day in the Life of a Rural Settler

William and Elizabeth Armstrong have come from Scotland to settle in North America.  They were tenant farmers back home and decided to search for a new life where they could finally have their own land.  They were granted land by the Crown and managed to build a good farm with healthy crops.  They now have five children - Jacob (17), Daniel (15), Mary (14),  Laura (12) and John (10).  The homestead they are living in is their second home with two levels.  The kitchen is still the centre of the house, the parents have their bedroom on the first floor near the kitchen and there are two rooms on the second floor (one for the boys and one for the girls) which the children climb up to using a ladder.  They have a woodstove that helps to keep the house warm. The sun is sitting on the horizon and Elizabeth is already up and stoking the fire in the woodstove to prepare breakfast while calling the children out of bed.  William has just finished washing his face and combing his hair before heading out to the barn to complete the morning work before breakfast.
(web) http://www.allposters.com/-sp/Pioneer-Family-s-Homestead-in-the-Far-West-Posters_i7780838_.htm

 Jacob, Daniel and Mary are the first to finish getting dressed, climb down the ladder and set off to the barn to help their father by starting to milk the cows.  They also need to muck out  the stables and strew the hay over the floor.  Mary's chore is to scatter the corn for the chickens and other barnyard fowl.  She then enters the hen house to collect eggs.  Meanwhile, John is carrying buckets of water from the well to the trough so the animals can drink.  It takes maybe 15-20 trips back and forth from the well to make sure all the animals have enough water.  Laura stays in the house with her mother to help prepare breakfast.  

Everyone is hungry by the time they finish their early morning chores.  They go back into the house, sit down at the table and find everything waiting for them.  William says grace before the family digs into breakfast consisting of bowls of porridge with thick fresh cream on top, boiled eggs, slices of smoked ham and mother's homemade bread with churned butter and strawberry jam made earlier in the summer.  

It is late summer and that means harvest season.  The children will eventually have to return to school but, right now, they are needed at home to help with the harvest chores.  Pioneer families had a lot of children to help with farm chores.  After breakfast, the morning chores need to be done.  Mary and her mother will wash the dishes, sweep the floors, shake out the mattresses and fold the quilts while William harnesses the horses for plowing after checking the horses' hoofs to make sure they aren't loose or there are any stones.  The rest of the children head over to the orchard or garden to pick fruit and vegetables that have ripened.  The apples will not only be used for pie or crumble but the ones that were picked off the ground will be pressed into cider.  The garden vegetables would include onions, carrots, potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, beans, corn and squash.  Fruit would include raspberries and blackberries as well as the possibility of peach or pear trees depending on where they live.


(web) https://www.gcv.org/Our-Blog/entryid/412/Imagine-Your-Life-as-a-Pioneer

Once the morning chores are finished, the family goes back into the house to enjoy a midday meal (what we now refer to as lunch).  During pioneer times, the midday meal was the main meal for the day.  It could consist of boiled potatoes and carrots as well as game (rabbit, deer, etc.) that had been trapped a few days earlier and prepared by the mother.  Another loaf of bread would be eatenwith churned butter.  For dessert, mother has made apple crumble with brown sugar.  

The afternoon chores during harvest time would likely include butchering a few of the pigs and preparing the meat by cutting it up, soaking it in salt brine and smoking it in the smokehouse (a small log building with a fire pit in the middle of the dirt floor consisting of oak or hickory logs).  It will take about a week for the meat to be fully smoked and cured to last most of the winter.  This work would be done by the three boys and their father.  The girls would be helping to finish any household chores or sewing that needed to be completed in the afternoon.  

The evening chores start at about six o'clock when it is time to take care of the animals again.  John has been given the task to herd the cows back to the barn while Jacob and Daniel brush out the horses and make sure their manes are detangled.  Their father makes sure that the rest of the animals have returned to the barn for the night so that they are protected from any wild predators.  The cows need to be milked again and all the animals need to be watered and fed.  Mary and Laura will help mother with the supper unless their father asks for an additional hand. The supper consists of fried eggs, leftover potatoes and more homemade bread with slices of cheese that had been made earlier in the day.  For dessert, the children are treated with a slice of apple pie.    After dinner, the girls help mother with washing the dishes and everyone relaxes before bed.  The children choose to either talk, play a game, read a book, embroider or even sing songs.  Around nine o'clock, if the youngest children haven't already been put to bed, they are ushered up to their rooms and the rest of the family follows not long after that.  It is important to get some good rest before the next day's chores start over again.

The Homestead
After being granted landed to settle on, the first job of a Pioneer was to clear the trees so that they can create a field to farm as soon as possible.  The wood that was chopped down to create the field, would be used to build the Pioneer's first homestead.  The first homestead was often a simple log house with one or two rooms and basic furnishings.  It was just shelter as the farmers raced against time to set up their livelihood.  Once their fields, stock and crops were established, they would concentrate on creating their second homestead which was the one that they would concentrate on raising their family in and would have more comforts of home than the first shelter.

The first homestead was often referred to as a log cabin and the second homestead would be sturdier with more craftsmanship (often referred to as a plank home).

Log Cabin
The log cabin was often very small (maybe about 5 x 6 metres or 16 x 20 feet) with a dirt floor.  The roof would be made out of a combination of tree bark, saplings or hollow logs.  The walls were made of logs that were held together with wooden pegs and any cracks that appeared would be filled up with moss, mud or wood chips.  Windows were often covered with oil paper or cloth and the door may have been as simple as a blanket or a makeshift piece of wood to keep the weather out.

It is likely that the beds were actually just bunks built into the walls and the mattress would have boughs (as that would have been the only thing available at that time).  The table in the centre of the room would have had benches around it all members of the family to sit on as it would have been the quickest and easiest type of furniture to construct at this time.  The log cabin would have had a fireplace that was made out of mud or stone and there would have been either a chimney or a small hole cut in the roof to let the smoke out.  There was no electricity in those days so pioneers would have relied on candles or oil lamps to light the cabin.  Water was an important part of life for the pioneers so that would have built the log cabin near a stream, spring or lake.

Plank Home
Once the settler had his farm functioning and a village began developing with the cooperation of other settlers who didn't necessarily have the skills to farm, the settler and his family could begin building a more permanent home - usually dubbed a plank home.  The plank home would need the help of the village saw mill to turn the logs into planks.  The home would now be two stories so that the beds could be moved to a more private area of the house.  It was larger with at least three rooms in addition to the kitchen/common area.  The dirt floor would eventually be covered with planks as well.  The walls were made of planks so that they could be lined tightly together by nails and avoid gaps. The roof would be covered with shingles (the wood would be something like cedar).  The pioneer and his family could now enjoy the luxury of having glass on the windows and a nice wooden door with hinges to keep out the weather.

The family would have been delighted to go from the bare basics to having home furnishings like a table with individual chairs, cupboards and bigger beds.  (Children would still have shared a bed but it would have been roomier.)  The fireplace would be made of stone.  Either the stove would be built as part of the fireplace or the family would decide to have a fireplace with an individual wood or iron cookstove - both of which would have pipes that led to the other rooms as a form of heating in the winter.  Electricity still did not exist so lighting would have been created by candles or kerosene lamps.  The plank home would likely still be built near a form of water like a stream, spring or lake but they may have also built a well, cistern or rain barrel so that water could be held closer to the home.

Seasonal Chores of the Rural Settlers
Spring
Older boys and men would:
  • mend / build fences
  • plow fields
  • plant new crops (to be sold and traded)
  • oversee and make sure the animals gave birth safely
  • wash and shear the sheep - wool had to be carded (two spiked boards that were rubbed together) and combed to untangle it before spinning the wool into yarn
  • in areas with maple trees, they might help tap the trees for maple sap to turn into syrup
Older girls and women would:
  • dig up and replant the vegetable garden (this would be a personal garden for the family to eat)
  • in areas with maple trees, they might help tap the trees for maple sap to turn into syrup
  • remove rocks / stones from the field
Younger boys and girls would:
  • remove rocks / stones from the field
  • help with digging up and replanting the personal garden under supervision
(web) http://printablecolouringpages.co.uk/?s=+york+maple+tree&page=1

Summer
Older boys and men would:
  • clear more land and plow fields to plant more crops 
  • at the end of the summer, there might be some vegetables to harvest early
  • mow the grass (and possibly clover) to be stored in the hayloft for winter feed
Older girls and women would:
  • weed and water the vegetable garden
  • forage for strawberries, currants, blueberries, blackberries, cherries and gooseberries
(web) http://www.campsilos.org/mod2/pfintro4.shtml

Autumn
This was the major harvesting season - crops need to cut and collected; if it was grain being harvested, then it also needed to be threshed (beaten with a hinged stick called a flail until the grains knocked out of the shells) and winnowed (seeds were separated from the light covering called the chaff) before grinding the seeds into flour at the grist mill.  Older boys and men would also:
  • butcher the pigs and cows
  • preserve the meat using a smokehouse (refrigeration was not invented yet)
  • make preparations for the inevitable winter (both inside and outside the house)
Older girls and women would:
  • gather potatoes, carrots, cabbages, turnips and onions from the family garden and stored in the cold cellar (usually a pit located under the floorboards of the house lined with stones)
  • gather raspberries, gooseberries and currants to make into jam and preserve over the winter months
  • gather apples and pears to dry in the sun and store for the winter
  • pickle cucumbers
Younger boys and girls would likely help with the gathering under adult supervision.

(web) http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/pe/pei-ipe/natcul/natcul2.aspx

Winter
Older boys and men would:
  • cut up and store firewood 
  • repair wagons, carts and tools; readying them for Spring
  • bring farm animals into the barn for safety throughout the winter
Older girls and women would:
  • continue indoor chores through the winter - mending clothes and cleaning the house
The chores were not as demanding in the winter so pioneers had a bit more time to socialize. 
(web) http://www.oldprintshop.com/cgi-bin/gallery.pl?action=exhibits&exhibit_id=21&page=2

Throughout the Year
Older boys and men would:
  • repair old furniture or make new furniture when there was time 
  • fish for food (except in the winter)
  • feed livestock / provide the livestock with water
  • milk the cows
Older girls and women would:
  • make candles
  • gather eggs
  • churn butter and make cheese
  • make clothes when necessary
(web) http://pixgood.com/pioneer-life-pictures.html


There were a lot of chores to keep everyone busy throughout the day.  Most of the chores outside were done by the men and older boys while younger boys were often given the responsibility of feeding livestock and gathering firewood.  Older girls and women did most of the work inside the house as well as gathering eggs and possibly helping to milk the cows.  Younger girls would be asked to feed the chickens, wash dishes and set the table as well as help their mothers when needed.


What Did Pioneers Eat?
Pioneers did not have a local grocery store, supermarket or Walmart to shop at when they needed food.  They needed to grow their own food in a garden, raise their own livestock, gather herbs, trap and hunt animals, catch fish and forage for wild berries or roots.  Their diet changed throughout the year depending on what was available to them.

Throughout the Year
  • salted pork
  • milk
  • butter
  • cheese
  • eggs
  • cornmeal or oatmeal
  • potatoes
  • flour

Spring and Summer
  • honey
  • maple syrup
  • fish
  • fresh greens 
  • squirrel
  • fresh vegetables from the family garden (parsnips, squash, corn, beans, etc.)

Autumn and Winter
  • apples (fresh in the autumn and dried for the winter)
  • root vegetables (carrots, turnips, onions) which could be stored in the cold cellar (also called a  root cellar)
  • venison
  • hares / rabbits
  • preserved meat from the livestock that was butchered (e.g. sausage, ham)
  • wild geese or wild turkeys








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