Friday, July 13, 2012

Up the Valley, southbound goods and people from PA

I recently saw this excellent graphic linked on an 18th century oriented message board and thought it was worth sharing (thanks to Bob Sherman in SC for posting it!).

It illustrates the physical realities of road travel to the backcountry in the 18th century and should explain how and why so many people and goods from Pennsylvania flowed to western Virginia in the 18th century especially if one considers topography!  A generalized discussion of topography and it's effect on Virginia settlement patterns can be seen here: 

When 18th century people said they were heading 'up' the Shenandoah Valley, they meant moving south:  for further reading I highly recommend this book:

In the late 18th century Benjamin Rush discussed this phenomenon.  His somewhat stilted take can be found in the link below and contains some great info on early settlement:,+Agriculture,+Manners+and+Government+in+Pennsylvania&hl=en&ei=J2XVTePfIMfr0gHDv9T5Cw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CCoQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=An%20Account%20of%20the%20Progress%20of%20Population%2C%20Agriculture%2C%20Manners%20and%20Government%20in%20Pennsylvania&f=false

Another excellent graphic addressing roads in the period can be found here:

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Fort Lewis Store inventory ca. 1766

I recently went through an old (first published in 1938) favorite, Kegley's Virginia Frontier and realized that I had forgotten it contained another back country store inventory for Alexander Boyd's store at Fort Lewis, Virginia.  Boyd had previously been paymaster for the Virginia provincials and as such his name pops up quite a bit in Colony records.  As described by Kegley (p325):

People  of the entire  community seem to have patronized this store,  and from the list of articles obtainable  there  no one needed to suffer from the lack of manufactured goods, or from the absence of raw materials  from  which useful articles  could  be made.     The  stock  of goods, amounting to  £1092/9/5 and farm  were mortgaged  to Alexander Baine, merchant  in Virginia, to secure him as  surety   for  Boyd  to  James  Lyle,  merchant   in  Chesterfield.  

The inventory contains numerous varieties of imported cloths such as  Camblett, Nankeen, Spotted Flannel, Bear Skin, Plains, Callico, Holland, Damask, Thicksett, Forrest Cloth and a wide variety of woolens, linens, silks and blended fabrics.  Household goods included blankets, ruggs, funnels, ceramics and kitchen vessels, a wide variety of books, 38 lbs of Copperas, and sewing notions. Hardware included over 30,000 nails ( 4D, 6D, and 20D sized),  hinges, tools, '100 pains Window Glass', Guns, powder, lead, a still and numerous other mass manufactured and imported goods.  Boyd's personal items included 'Indian Garters, belt, & 1 pr. Mockasoons' ( valued at 1/0/0), 3 Raccoon Hats [cocked hats made of Raccoon fur felt], 'Pistolls', 2  Old Guns, 3 Razors, his wearing apparel, a number of horses, cattle, furniture, Servants under indenture and Slaves.  An advertisement for one of his slaves, Phil; appears here:,+Williamsburg,+July+18,+1766.++&query=alexander++boyd

As noted in the runaway ad, Boyd also ran a store in New London, where Merchant John Hook would later establish himself.  I highly recommend this book, which covers Hook's operation in depth: .  All in all, another interesting account of the wide variety of imported merchandize  available in the Virginia back country prior to the Revolution.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Venison Ham

One of the fairly common foodstuffs in back country Virginia that seems to have become somewhat uncommon in the modern era is the Venison ham. Venison hams were sold in McCorkle's store in New Dublin - modern Pulaski, Virginia (likely a sideline for those involved in the deerskin trade) and are mentioned by Smyth as a typical Virginia food in warm weather. John Ferdinand Smythe: A Tour in the United States of America 1784
"The gentleman of fortune rises about nine o'clock; he may perhaps make an excursion to walk as far as his stable to see his horses, which is seldom more than fifty yards from his house; he returns to breakfast between nine and ten, which is generally tea or coffee, bread-and-butter, and very thin slices of venison-ham, or hung beef."
Creswell also mentions them:
""On Board the Pilot Boat "Sally," Potowmeck River--Thursday, April 24th, 1777. Sailed from Alexandria about noon. Mr. Crafts gave me three venison Hams."" "We gave them a Bottle of Whiskey, a Venison Ham and left them to condole their misfortunes together, but we first took care to secure the Hatch."
A hunter's contract from 1784 specifying Venison hams(thanks to Fred for sharing this info!):
"Articles of agreement Enterd Into This Eighteenth Day of October 1784 Between Genl George Rogers Clarke & Alexr. Skinner Physician on the one & John Saunders of the other Part all of Jefferson County in the State of Virginia & Country of Kentucky Witnesseth that the Said Genl. G. Rogers Clark and Alexander Skinner, are to furnish on their Part Three men & one pack Horse with Salt and & Ammunition for the purpose of Making a Hunt procuring Beef - Bear Meat - Bears Oil & Vennison Hams & Curing them in a proper Manner for Keeping Sound of it for use during the winter & Spring - That the said Saunders on his part is as a Hunter to use every possible Means to procure the said Meats &c by pitching upon Good Hunting Grounds & being Assiduous & Industrious & the said Saunders is to See that the meat is properly Salted at the Camp & Send it from time to time to the falls of ohio - The Bears oil properly Curd & The Hams properly Dried - The meat is to be Delivered to the said Skinner at the falls of Ohio - to be disposd off or put up in Bulk or Dried as may be most Convenient The said said Saunders in Consideration of this Duty faithfully to be performd is to be entitled to one third of all the meat & oil so to be procurd which third part shall either be sold when a Market offers on its arrival at the falls or preservd with the Rest he paying his proportion of any farther Curing that may be necessary when it arrives atthe falls or it..."
Cresswell also writes on American ham/bacon preparation, and I took my lead from that method and the sage advice of a very helpful friend who has a lot of experience in curing hams.
"The bacon cured here is not to be equalled in any part of the world, their hams in particular. They first rub them over with brown sugar and let them lie all night. This extracts the watery particles. They let them lie in salt for 10 days or a fortnight. Some rub them with hickory ashes instead of saltpetre, it makes them red as the saltpetre and gives them a pleasant taste. Then they are hung up in the smoke-house and a slow smoky fire kept under them for three or four weeks, nothing but hickory wood is burnt in these smoke-houses. This gives them an agreeable flavour, far preferable to the Westphalia Hams, not only that, but it prevents them going rancid and will preserve them for several years by giving them a fresh smoking now and then. Beef cured in this manner is but very indifferent eating. Indeed the Beef in this country is not equal in goodness to the English, it may be as fat, but not so juicy."
I was lucky enough to get a little space for my deer ham in a local smokehouse after the meat spent some quality time in a salt tub with brown sugar and saltpeter. For a bit of background on Virginia smokehouses, I recommend this article: As for those in the back country, the Sayer's plantation smoke house (ca 1754-1765) at the site that eventually became Fort Chiswell bucked the 8 or 12 foot square trend noted in the above article and was only 5 feet square. Surprisingly, bricks were used in the foundation and fireplace despite being a very remote homestead when it was constructed (Excavations at Fort Chiswell : an archaeological perspective of Virginia's western frontier by Thomas Claude Funk). After a few weeks smoking, I had a very nicely preserved Venision ham that was very tasty, although a bit more like jerky than the fattier pork hams from the same lot! All in all, a great experiment and I hope to them again. Happy smoking!