Tuesday, September 1, 2015

LIFE ON THE FRONTIER by Shirley Martin


Frontier can mean many things. As I use the word here, it refers to the settling of western Pennsylvania after 1760.

The early settlers who came to western Pennsylvania were tough, resilient people. They had trudged from the eastern part of the colony through the gaps in the Allegheny Mountains with all of their belongings and perhaps a cow. They came to unsettled country where there was nothing and no one to greet them.

We have a tendency to romanticize historical periods, but so many challenges and hardships faced the early settlers that a man and his wife were worn out and exhausted by age thirty-five. Wolves might devour their cows and pigs. Squirrels and raccoons ate their corn crop.

In a historical novel I read years ago and whose title I've forgotten, there is a scene where the male protagonist plans on taking his new wife to the recently-opened Ohio country. His mother instructs him on delivering a baby. This must have happened many times on the frontier, whee pople lived in isolated cabins, and a man had to deliver the babies.

Life was indeed primitive for the early settlers. Until their log cabin was built, they lived in the open. Their log cabin was usually twenty feet by thirty feet and two and a half stories high. The interior of the cabin was dim, relieved only by the gray light through the one greased paper pane, and in summer, by the sunlight that came through the open door. Rats and snakes were frequent visitors.

In the better equipped cabin there were gridirons, skillets, broilers for rabbits and small game, braziers and waffle irons. Pots and pans and all other utensils that didn't hang from hooks were very long-handled to protect the hand from the heat.  Until 1834, the only means of making fire was by flint and steel struck together.

For the most part, the men of the frontier adopted the dress of the Indians. They wore hunting shirts made of jean or linsey or deerskin. In cold weather, he wore linsey in preference to deerskin since deerskin was cold and clammy in winter weather. All through fine weather people went barefoot. In the winter they wore shoepacks.

Any finery was impractical for women. They wore dresses made of homespun linsey-woolsey. Clothing was so scarce that old dresses were re-dyed again and again and often willed to another generation. Every pioneer woman could spin, knit, weave and sew.

Indian corn was a staple crop for the settler. The men hunted deer for venison and fished for pike, perch, and trout in the rivers. They also hunted wild turkey, grouse, and quail. Everyone, adults and children alike, drank whiskey.  Bread was a rare commodity.

Housewives began their day early, around four in the morning.  They built the fire in the fireplace, hauled water, gathered ingredients from the kitchen garden and slaughtered and cleaned food.  There was little leisure time for the frontier housewife. Unless she had a candle mold, making candles was an arduous all day affaie.

Indian attacks were an everpresent danger. The primary tribes of western Pennsylvania were the Shawnee and the Lenni Lenape.(Delaware.)  The Shawnee was especially fierce. When a brave returned to his village with a captured white man, one of the women greeted him by saying, "You have brought me good stew."

We are naturally sympathetic with the Indians.  The land was theirs; they had lived on it for centuries. On the other hand, the settlers had originally come from Europe--mostly the British Isles and Germany--where only the aristocracy owned land.  In times past, a man could lose his oculos et testiculos for poaching on the lord's land to feed his starving family. Here in western Pennsylvania, a man could acquire land for virtually nothing.

As the settlements grew and people came to know their neighbors, often a frolic would relieve the monotony of their days. The frolics usually occurred in the fall, after the crops were in. In my time travel romance, "Dream Weaver," which takes place in 1763, I took a bit of literary license and placed the frolic in early summer. The fiddle and flute would play the music, and young people danced to lyrics such as this:

     If I had as many lives
     As Soloman had wives
     I'd be as old as Adam
     So rise to your feet
     And kiss the first that you meet
     Your humble servant, madam

In time, the settlements of western Pennsylvania grew, creating the major industrial center of Pittsburgh.

Born near Pittsburgh, Shirley Martin began writing historical novels centered around that area. Later, she blossomed out to paranormal and fantasy novels. Her books are sold online and at Barnes and Noble.

Please check out my website here:  www.shirleymartinauthor.com
My Books We Love page:  http://bookswelove.net/authors/martin-shirley
My FB page:  https://www.facebook.com/shirley.martin716970
And Twitter:  https://twitter.com/mshirley1496