Thursday, January 4, 2018

HAPPY NEW YEAR - 1818 By Cheri Kay Clifton

As we wish our family and friends a Happy 2018, I thought it would be interesting to look back on everyday life in 1818. Like many of our Sweethearts, as an American historical western author, I’ve researched a plethora of facts and information about lifestyles in 19th Century.

Some might say their simpler life could be envied compared to our fast-paced, technical-driven, media-saturated world of today. Still, in 1818, life, though slower, was much harder. Below are a few reminders of what American home life was like back then.

In many of the regions of the country, especially on the frontier, folks lived in a one-room cabin with dirt floor, fireplace for warmth and cooking, homemade pinewood table and chairs, straw mattresses, and candles for lighting. Not until later in the 1820’s did some have the luxury of cast iron cookstoves.

Housewives preserved foods by drying, salting and smoking. It wasn’t until the 1860’s that home canning came into use. A tin smith from New York by the name of John L. Mason invented a glass jar with a threaded lip and a reusable metal lid – the Mason Jar. Ice boxes didn’t enter kitchens until mid-1800’s.

 Typical foods were available at the general stores in town including salt, spices, sugar, molasses, raisins, fruits, vegetables, cheese, eggs, butter, salted meats, wine and chocolate.

Common pastries like oatmeal cookies, crackers, gingerbread, apple, cherry & pumpkin pies and even doughnuts were eaten throughout the 19th century. Drinking tea was preferred over coffee until after the Civil War.

Local saloons and taverns offered all kinds of alcohol. Hard cider was a favorite in the North, while corn liquor was favored in the South. Cocktails were offered at social gatherings and in some homes. However, men imbibed far more often than women.

Electricity came late in the century, as did telephones. Without electricity, women did all their chores by hand … the cooking, the cleaning, the washing, and the sewing. Until the 1840’s, when clothing became more available in stores, Americans wore hand sewn clothes.

With no built-in bathtubs until the second half of the century, the typical family used a round, wooden or tin tub filled with hot water from the fireplace. All their water was hauled or pumped from a cistern or well. Toothbrushes became available in country stores by the 1820’s, though few used or realized their importance.

As far as filling their leisure time, the entertainment and amusements we take for granted today wasn’t in their world yet. No televisions, no radios, no stereos. No bicycles, no baseball, no basketball, no golf, no tennis, no football yet. But they enjoyed such games as cards, checkers, chess and billiards and sports like bowling and horse racing. Children played with homemade dolls, blocks and other simple toys. (I wrote two in-depth blogs, Childhood Toys of Yesteryear, posted last year in February & March on SOTW.)

Music, singing and musical instruments provided entertainment in churches, taverns and at home. Fiddles and violins were most frequent at socials and dances. Harmonicas and banjos were often enjoyed. The piano was owned by a few in the middle class and young women were taught how to play from 1800 on.

On New Year’s Day, 1818, the 3-volume novel, Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley was published; the next year Rip Van Wrinkle by Washington Irving. The popular classics by James Fenimore Cooper, Leatherstocking Tales and The Last of the Mohicans would be published in 1823 & 1826.

Saturday Evening Post first appeared on August 4, 1821, making it the oldest magazine in U.S. history. Not until 1830 was Godey’s Lady Book published, becoming one of the most popular women’s magazines.

 It’s hard not to compare our way of life with all the inventions and technical luxuries we have now to living without them in 19th Century America. But I would imagine folks in 1818 were content with their everyday life. After all, “they wouldn’t miss what they never had.” 


  1. Oh yes! I hear people say they'd love to go back in time and live the simple life. Ah, it sounds so romantic, until you start thinking about it. No running water, no electricity, cloth diapers that were boiled on the wood stove. NO air conditioning. No central heat. No disposable female products. ICKY. No midwife unless you were lucky. (Neither of my girls would have made it into this world and the second one would have killed me too!) The bucket water that was brought in during the winter to save a walk to the pump early in the morning so you could make coffee, would be found frozen solid. I'll stay here and try to keep life uncomplicated while I write about yesteryear.
    Great post, Cheri.

    1. E, your so right, the list could go on and on, and that's just things they didn't have in their home. But what about the world outside their house, so many inventions and innovations yet to be discovered. Easy for us to look back in time and see what they didn't have ... but if they could look ahead to our 21st Century, they'd not only be amazed, no doubt it would be quite scary to them as well! To be honest, some of the technical stuff being developed scares me! LOL HAPPY NEW YEAR!

  2. I can personally identify with some of these. My Granny and Papa Davis lived in a house with no running water until they passed away..around 1958 for one of them. No heat except a pot-bellied wood stove. Outhouse forever. I, myself, was born in a house like this but moved away I 1944 when I was four--to "real towns." Both we and my grandparents had an "ice box" and a man in a mule drawn cart came by regularly to leave a big chunk of ice. Stove? My granny cooked on a wood burning stove until just before she died when she got a kerosene burning stove.
    Oh, THANKS, for the memories! Your posts are always so good. Keep it up!

    1. Thanks, Celia. I had replied a couple days ago on my tablet, but evidently it didn't post. Reminiscing about your grandparents made me a smile. I recall some of my "kinfolk" who lived in rural areas back in the OD's having pot bellied stoves and outhouses.

  3. You are correct IMO that you can't miss what you didn't know would exist. Those with ice boxes and cast iron stoves probably felt privileged to an easier life. My husband's family had to carry water until he was four and they moved to town. Imagine how thrilled his mother must have been to have working water faucets and indoor plumbing. Still, I'll bet a lot of overworked women wished there was an easier way to do "x". For me, that would be ironing. Ugh.

    1. So much we take for granted now. I love my Christmas gift, Alexa, who answers all kinds of questions, tells the weather, plays music requests, etc. and if I had a "smart home" could even turn on lights, alarms, heating, etc. I wonder when she'll be able to iron?? LOL

  4. Thank you for the great post, and with so many good historical dates to reference and tidbits to keep in mind when creating "worlds" for our characters. Every morning when I come in from the barn I'm grateful for hot running water to "thaw" out my hands! :) That would have been such a luxury for them.

    1. Thanks, Gini, for stopping by. That's what's great about SOTW blogs, lots of information from which to refer and to inspire us with our writing.


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