Saturday, March 23, 2013

"Housing" of "A Little Commonwealth"

Continuation of Pilgrim Housing from the book 

A Little Commonwealth by John Demos

This is a continuation of the earlier post. Remember that this book is about Pilgrims. John Demos used primary sources such as archaeological effects, wills, lists, estate records, etc. to write his book. I absolutely love this book. It is an easy read too. 

Starting within the house, there were sometimes two rooms on the second floor, and one upstairs.

  "The main room in these single bay houses was usually called the 'hall'. Sometimes it was the only room, spanning the whole of the ground-level area. Its dimensions were not, of course, standard, but were normally on the order of fifteen to twenty feet aside. … Access to the hall often involved an entrance porch projecting out from some part of the house, though occasionally too it was through a door built directly into a wall. The former alternative was presumably more efficient from the standpoint of heating. A massive chimneystack and fireplace was the dominant feature of the hall, and indeed of the whole building. In the earliest phase of Plymouth history frame-built chimneys daubed with plaster were common, and there may have been a few stacks made from fieldstones.”[1]

I would like to point out that the larger mansions back in England from earlier times still represented the large room on the main floor as the “hall” and would sometimes even be called the “grand hall”. This looks like a semblance of grandness trying to be imposed upon a small dwelling to make it feel more acceptable perhaps. What do you think?

“Many of these single-bay dwellings actually included two rooms on the ground floor. This was managed simply by walling off one end of the hall with clapboards or some other form of planking. The resultant compartment was usually known as an ‘inner room’…. In England the ‘inner room’ was most often used as a service or storage area; sometimes, in fact, it went by the name of ‘buttery’. But in Plymouth the typical pattern seems to have been somewhat different. From the evidence of the inventories it frequently contained a bed and bedding, and very little more. Occasionally it was the principal bedroom, judging from the presence of a ‘furnished’ or curtained bed.”[2]

When the house had more than one story, the loft was called the “upper room” or “chamber.”[3] According to Demos, this room was usually used for other members of the family to sleep in, thus, the term “chamber” I would suppose. Access to the chamber was either a ladder (which makes sense to me because I have seen the ladder from Little House on the Prairie! Yes, I know different time, but can’t you just see it?!) Others used a steep staircase set up against the fireplace.

Demos says that the inside walls were clapboarding or wainscoting. None it, supposedly, was glamorous or grand. Floors were wooden, which was, again according to Demos, more of an advantage to their counterparts in England. There was a wood shortage occurring in England (of which I have read in more than this source), and so the floors were either earth floors or plaster floors.[4] I would think that plaster floors would actually be worse than earth floors. They would peel, I would think. Does anyone have any idea?

[1] John Demos, A Little Commonwealth: Family Life in Plymouth Colony. 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.), 30.
[2] Ibid, 31.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid, 32.

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