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Chepa Rose was one of those old-time chap-men known throughout New England as "trunk pedlers." Bearing on his back by means of a harness of stout hempen webbing two oblong trunks of thin metal,--probably tin,--for forty-eight years he had appeared at every considerable farmhouse throughout Narragansett and eastern Connecticut, at intervals as regular as the action and appearance of the sun, moon, and tides; and everywhere was he greeted with an eager welcome.

 

Chepa was, as he said, "half Injun, half French, and half Yankee." From his Indian half he had his love of tramping which made him choose the wandering trade of trunk peddler; his French half made him a good trader and talker; while his Yankee half endowed him with a universal Yankee trait, a "handiness," which showed in scores of gifts and accomplishments and knacks that made him as warmly greeted everywhere as were his attractive trunks.

He was a famous medicine-brewer; from the roots and herbs and barks that he gathered as he tramped along the country roads he manufactured a cough medicine that was twice as effective and twice as bitter as old Dr. Greene's; he made famous plasters, of two kinds,--plasters to stick and plasters to crawl, the latter to follow the course of the disease or pain; he concocted wonderful ink; he showed Jenny Greene how to bleach her new straw bonnet with sulphur fumes; he mended umbrellas, harnesses, and tinware; he made glorious tee-to-tums which the children looked for as eagerly and unfailingly as they did for his tops and marbles, his ribbons and Gibraltars.

One day he came through the woods to John Helme's house carrying in his hand a stout birchen staff or small tree-trunk, which he laid down on the flat millstone embedded in the grass at the back door, while he displayed and sold his wares and had his dinner. He then went out to the dooryard with little Johnny Helme, sat down on the millstone, lighted his pipe, opened his jack-knife, and discoursed thus:--

     "Johnny, I'm going to tell you how to make an Injun broom. Fust, you must find a big birch-tree. There ain't so many big ones now of any kind as there useter be when we made canoes and plates and cradles, and water spouts, and troughs, and furnitoor out of the bark. But you must get a yallow birch-tree as straight as H and edzactly five inch acrost. Now, how kin ye tell how fur it is acrost a tree afore ye cut it off? I kin tell by the light of my eye, but that's Injun larnin'. Lemme tell you by book-larnin'. Measure it round, and make the string in three parts, and one part'll be what it is acrost. If it's nine inch round, it'll be three inch acrost, and so on. Now don't you forgit that. Wal! you must get a straight birch-tree five inch acrost where you cut it off, just like this one. Then make the stick six foot long. Then one foot and two inch from the big end cut a ring round the bark; wal! say two inch wide just like this. Then you take off all the bark below that ring. Then you begin a-slivering with a sharp jack-knife, leetle teeny flat slivers way up to the bark ring. When it's all slivered up thin and flat there'll be a leetle hard core left inside at the top, and you must cut it out careful. Then you take off the bark above the ring and begin slivering down. Leave a stick just big enough for a handle. Then tie this last lot of slivers down tight over the others with a hard-twisted tow string, and trim 'em off even. Then whittle off and scrape off a good smooth handle with a hole in the top to put a loop of cowhide in, to hang it up by orderly.

     "Yes, Johnny, I've got just enough Injun in me to make a good broom; not enough to be ashamed of and not enough to be proud of. But you mustn't forgit this; a moccasin's the best cover a man ever had on his feet in the woods; the easiest to get stuff for, the easiest to make, the easiest to wear. And a birch-bark canoe's the best boat a man can have on the river. It's the easiest to get stuff for, easiest to carry, the fastest to paddle. And a snowshoe's the best help a man can have in the winter. It's the easiest to get stuff for, the easiest to walk on, the easiest to carry. And just so a birch broom is the best broom a man or at any rate a woman can have; four best things and all of 'em is Injun. Now you just slip in and take that broom to Phillis. I see her the last time I was here a-using a mizrable store broom to clean her oven--and just ask her if I can't have a mug of apple-jack afore I go to bed."

If this scene had been laid in New Hampshire or Vermont instead of Narragansett, the Indian broom would have been no novelty to any boy or house-servant. For in the northern New England states, heavily wooded with yellow birch, every boy knew how to make the Indian brooms, and every household in country or town had them. There was a constant demand in Boston for them, and sometimes country stores had several hundred of the brooms at a time. Throughout Vermont seventy years ago the uniform price paid for making one of these brooms was six cents; and if the splints were very fine and the handle scraped with glass, it took nearly three evenings to finish it. Indian squaws peddled them throughout the country for ninepence apiece. Major Robert Randolph told in fashionable London circles about the year 1750, that when he was a boy in New Hampshire he earned his only spending-money by making these brooms and carrying them on his back ten miles to town to sell them. Girls could whittle as well as boys, and often exchanged the birch brooms they made for a bit of ribbon or lace.

A simpler and less durable broom was made of hemlock branches. A local rhyme says of them:--

    "Driving at twilight the waiting cows, With arms full-laden with hemlock boughs, To be traced on a broom ere the coming day From its eastern chambers should dance away."

The hemlock broom was simply a bunch of close-growing, full-foliaged hemlock branches tied tightly together and wound around with hempen twine, "traced," the rhyme says, with a sharply pointed handle, which the boys had shaped and whittled, driven well into the bound portion. This making of brooms for domestic use is but an example of one of the many score of useful domestic and farm articles which were furnished by the natural resources of every wood-lot, adapted by the Yankee jack-knife and a few equally simple tools, of which the gimlet might take the second place.

It was so emphatically a wooden age in colonial days that it seemed almost that there were no hard metals used for any articles which to-day seem so necessarily of metal. Ploughs were of wood, and harrows; cart-wheels were often wholly of wood without tires, though sometimes iron plates called strakes held the felloes together, being fastened to them by long clinch-pins. The dish-turner and cooper were artisans of importance in those days; piggins, noggins, runlets, keelers, firkins, buckets, churns, dye-tubs, cowles, powdering-tubs, were made with chary or no use of metal.

The forests were the wealth of the colonies in more ways than one; and it may be said that they furnished both domestic winter employment and toys for the boys. The New England forests were full of richly varied kinds of wood, suitable for varied uses, with varied qualities--pliability, stiffness, durability, weight, strength; and it is surprising to see how quickly the woods were assigned to fixed uses, even for toys; in every state pop-guns were made from elder; bows and arrows of hemlock; whistles of chestnut or willow.

The Rev. John Pierpont wrote thus of the whittling of his childhood days:--

    "The Yankee boy before he's sent to school Well knows the mysteries of that magic tool--The pocket-knife. To that his wistful eye Turns, while he hears his mother's lullaby. And in the education of the lad, No little part that implement hath had. His pocket-knife to the young whittler brings A growing knowledge of material things, Projectiles, music, and the sculptor's art. His chestnut whistle, and his shingle dart, His elder pop-gun with its hickory rod, Its sharp explosion and rebounding wad, His corn-stalk fiddle, and the deeper tone That murmurs from his pumpkin-leaf trombone Conspire to teach the boy. To these succeed His bow, his arrow of a feathered reed, His windmill raised the passing breeze to win, His water-wheel that turns upon a pin. Thus by his genius and his jack-knife driven Ere long he'll solve you any problem given; Make you a locomotive or a clock, Cut a canal or build a floating dock: Make anything in short for sea or shore, From a child's rattle to a seventy-four. Make it, said I--ay, when he undertakes it, He'll make the thing and make the thing that makes it."

The boy's jack-knife was a possession so highly desired, so closely treasured in those days when boys had so few belongings, that it is pathetic to read of many a farm lad's struggles and long hours of weary work to obtain a good knife. Barlow knives were the most highly prized for certainly sixty years, and had, I am told, a vast popularity for over a century. May they forever rest in glorious memory, as they lived the happiest of lots! To be the best beloved of a century of Yankee boys is indeed an enviable destiny. A few battered old soldiers of this vast army of Barlow jack-knives still linger to show us the homely features borne by the century's well beloved: the Smithsonian Institution cherishes some of colonial days; and from Deerfield Memorial Hall are shown three Barlow knives whose picture should appear to every American something more than the presentment of dull bits of wood and rusted metal. These Yankee jack-knives were, said Daniel Webster, the direct forerunners of the cotton-gin and thousands of noble American inventions; the New England boy's whittling was his alphabet of mechanics.

In this connection, let us note the skillful and utilitarian adaptation not only of natural materials for domestic and farm use, but also natural forms. The farmer and his wife both turned to Nature for implements and utensils, or for parts adapted to shape readily into the implements and utensils of every-day life. When we read of the first Boston settlers that "the dainty Indian maize was eat with clam-shells out of wooden trays," we learn of a primitive spoon, a clam-shell set in a split stick, which has been used till this century. Large flat clam-shells were used and highly esteemed by housewives, as skimming-shells in the dairy, to skim cream from the milk. Gourd-shells made capital bowls, skimmers, dippers, and bottles; pumpkin-shells, good seed and grain holders. Turkey-wings made an ever-ready hearth-brush. In the forests were many "crooked sticks" that were more useful than any straight ones could be. When the mower wanted a new snathe or snead, as he called it, for his scythe, he found in the woods a deformed sapling that had grown under a log or twisted around a rock in a double bend, which made it the exact shape desired. He then whittled it, dressed it with a draw-shave, fastened the nebs with a neb-wedge, hung it with an iron ring, and was ready for the mowing-field.

Sled-runners were made from saplings bent at the root. The best thills for a cart were those naturally shaped by growth. The curved pieces of wood in the harness of a draught-horse, called the hames, to which the traces are fastened, could be found in twisted growths, as could also portions of ox-yokes. The gambrels used in slaughtering times, hay-hooks, long-handled pothooks for brick ovens, could all be cut ready-shaped.

The smaller underbrush and saplings had many uses. Sled and cart stakes were cut from some; long bean-poles from others; specially straight clean sticks were saved for whip-stocks. Sections of birch bark could be bottomed and served for baskets, or for potash cans, while capital feed-boxes could be made in the same way of sections cut from a hollow hemlock. Elm rind and portions of brown ash butts were natural materials for chair-seats and baskets, as were flags for door-mats. Forked branches made geese and hog yokes. Hogs that ran at large had to wear yokes. It was ordered that these yokes should measure as long as twice and a half times the depth of the neck, while the bottom piece was three times the width of the neck.

In the shaping of heavy and large vessels such as salt-mortars, pig troughs, maple-sap troughs, the jack-knife was abandoned and the methods of the Indians adopted. These vessels were burnt and scraped out of a single log, and thus had a weighty stability and permanence. Wooden bread troughs were also made from a single piece of wood. These were oblong, trencher-shaped bowls about eighteen inches long; across the trough ran lengthwise a stick or rod on which rested the sieve, searse, or temse, when flour was sifted into the trough. The saying "set the Thames (or temse) on fire," meant that hard work and active friction would set the wooden temse on fire.

Sometimes the mould for an ox-bow was dug out of a log of wood. Oftener a plank of wood was cut into the desired shape as a frame or mould, and fastened to a heavy backboard. The ox-bow was steamed, placed in the bow-mould, pinned in, and then carefully seasoned.

The boys whittled cheese-ladders, cheese-hoops, and red-cherry butter-paddles for their mothers' dairy; also many parts of cheese-presses and churns. To the toys enumerated by Rev. Mr. Pierpont, they added box-traps and "figure 4" traps of various sizes for catching vari-sized animals.

Many farm implements other than those already named were made, and many portions of tools and implements; among them were shovels, swingling-knives, sled-neaps, stanchions, handles for spades and bill-hooks, rake-stales, fork-stales, flails. A group of old farm implements from Memorial Hall, at Deerfield, is here given. The handleless scythe-snathe is said to have come over on the _Mayflower_.

The making of flails was an important and useful work. Many were broken and worn out during a great threshing. Both parts, the staff or handle, and the swingle or swiple, were carefully shaped from well-chosen wood, to be joined together later by an eelskin or leather strap.

The flail is little seen on farms to-day. Threshing and winnowing machines have taken its place. The father of Robert Burns declared threshing with a flail to be the only degrading and stultifying work on a farm; but I never knew another farmer who deemed it so, though it was certainly hard work. Last autumn I visited the "Poor Farm" on Quonsett Point in old Narragansett. In the vast barn of that beautiful and sparsely occupied country home, two powerful men, picturesque in blue jeans tucked in heavy boots, in scarlet shirts and great straw hats, were threshing out grain with flails. Both men were blind, one wholly, the other partially so--and were "Town Poor." Their strong, bare arms swung the long flails in alternate strokes with the precision of clockwork, bringing each blow down on the piled-up wheat-straw which covered the barn-floor, as they advanced, one stepping backward while the other stepped forward, and then receded with mechanical and rhythmic regularity, a step and a blow, from one end of the long barn to the other. The half-blind thresher could see the outline of the open door against the sunlight, and his steps and voice guided his sightless fellow-worker. Thus healthful and useful employment was given to two stricken waifs through the use of primitive methods, which no modern machine could ever have afforded; and the blue sky and bay, with autumnal sunshine on the piled-up golden wheat on floor and in rack, idealized and even made of the threshers, paupers though they were, a beautiful picture of old-time farm-life.

Wood for axe-helves was carefully chosen, sawed, split, and whittled into shape. These were then scraped as smooth as ivory with broken glass. Some men had a knack that was almost genius in shaping these axe-helves and selecting the wood for them. In a country where the broad-axe was so important an implement--used every day by every farmer; where lumbermen and loggers and shipwrights swung the axe the entire day for many months, men were ready to pay double price for a well-made helve, so shaped as to let the heavy blow jar as little as possible the hand holding the helve. One Maine farmer boasted that he had made and sold five hundred axe-helves, and received a good price for them all; that some had gone five hundred miles out west, others a hundred miles "up country"; and of no one of them which he had set had it ever been said, as of the axe in Deuteronomy, "When a man goeth into the wood to hew wood, and his hand fetcheth a stroke with the axe to cut down a tree, then the head slippeth from the helve."

A little money might be earned by cutting heel-pegs for shoemakers. These were made of a maple trunk sawed across the grain, making the circular board thin enough--a half inch or so--for the correct length of the pegs. The end was then marked in parallel lines, then grooved across at right angles, then split as marked into pegs with knife and mallet. A story is told of a farmer named Meigs, who, on the winter ride to market in company with a score or more of his neighbors, stole out at night from the tavern fireside where all were gathered to the barn where the horses were put up. There he took an oat-bag out of a neighbor's sleigh and poured out a good feed for his own horse. In the morning it was found that his horse had not relished the shoe-pegs that had been put in his manger; and their telltale presence plainly pointed out the thief. These shoe-pegs were a venture of two farmer boys which their father was taking to town to sell for them, and in indignation the boys thrust on the thief the name of Shoe-pegs Meigs, which he carried to the end of his life.

When the boys had learned to use a few other tools besides their jack-knives, as they quickly did, they could get sawed staves from the sawmills and make up shooks of staves bound with hoops of red oak, for molasses hogsheads. These would be shipped to the West Indies, and form an important link in the profitable rum and slave round of traffic that bound Africa, New England, and the West Indies so closely together in those days. A constant occupation for men and boys was making rived or shaved shingles. They were split with a beetle and wedge. A smart workman could by sharp work make a thousand a day. There may still be occasionally found in what were well-wooded pine regions, in shed or barn-lofts, or in old wood-houses, a stout oaken frame or rack such as was at one time found in nearly every house. It was known as a bundling-mould or shingling-mould. At the bottom of this strong frame were laid straight sticks and twisted withes which extended up the sides. Upon these were evenly packed the shingles, two hundred and fifty in number, known as a "quarter." The withes or "binders" were twisted strongly around when the number was full. The mould held them firmly in place while being tied. These were sealed by law and shipped. Cullers of staves were regularly appointed town officers. The dimensions of the shingles were given by law and rule; fifteen inches was the length for one period of time, and the bundling-mould conformed to it.

Daniel Leake of Salisbury, New Hampshire, made during his lifetime and was paid for a million shingles. During the years he was accomplishing this colossal work he cleared three hundred acres of land, tapped for twenty years at least six hundred maple-trees, making sometimes four thousand pounds of sugar a year. He could mow six acres a day, giving nine tons of hay; his strong, long arms cut a swath twelve feet wide. _In his spare time_ he worked as a cooper, and he was a famous drum-maker. Truly there were giants in those days. I love to read of such vigorous, powerful lives; they seem to be of a race entirely different from our own. Still, among our New England forbears I doubt not many of us had some such giants, who conquered for us the earth and forests.

One mark the shingling industry left on the household. In the sawing of blocks there would always be some too knotty or gnarled to split into shingles. These were what were known in the vernacular as "on-marchantable shingle-bolts." They formed in many a pioneer's home and in many a pioneer school-house good solid seats for children and even grown people to sit on. And even in pioneer meeting-houses these blocks could sometimes be seen.

Other fittings for the house were whittled out. Long, heavy, wooden hinges were cut from horn-beam for cupboard and closet doors; even shed doors were hung on wooden hinges as were house doors in the earliest colonial days. Door-latches were made of wood, also oblong buttons to fasten chamber and cupboard doors.

New England housekeepers prized the smooth, close-grained bowls which the Indians made from the veined and mottled knots of maple-wood. They were valued at what seems high prices for wooden utensils and were often named and bequeathed in wills. Maple-wood has been used and esteemed by many nations for cups and bowls. The old English and German vessel known as a mazer was made of maple-wood, often bound and tipped with silver. Spenser speaks in his _Shepheard's Calendar_ of "a mazer yrought of the maple wood." A well-known specimen in England bears the legend in Gothic text:--

    "In the Name of the Trinitie Fille the kup and drinke to me."

Sometimes a specially skilful Yankee would rival the Indians in shaping and whittling out these bowls. I have seen two really beautiful ones carved with double initials, and one with a Scriptural reference, said to be the work of a lover for his bride. Another token of affection and skill from the whittler were carved busks, which were the broad and strong strips of wood placed in corsets or stays to help to form and preserve the long-waisted, stiff figure then fashionable. One carved busk bears initials and an appropriately sentimental design of arrows and hearts.

On the rim of spinning-wheels, on shuttles, swifts, and on niddy-noddys or hand-reels I have seen lettering by the hands of rustic lovers. A finely carved legend on a hand-reel reads:--

    "POLLY GREENE, HER REEL. Count your threads right If you reel in the night When I am far away. June, 1777."

Perhaps some Revolutionary soldier gave this as a parting gift to his sweetheart on the eve of battle.

On his powder-horn the rustic carver bestowed his best and daintiest work. Emblem both of war and of sport, it seemed worthy of being shaped into the highest expression of his artistic longing. A chapter, even a book, might be filled with the romantic history and representations of American powder-horns; patriotism, sentiment, and adventure shed equal halos over them. Months of the patient work of every spare moment was spent in beautifying them, and their quaintness, variety, and individuality are a never-ceasing delight to the antiquary. Maps, plans, legends, verses, portraits, landscapes, family history, crests, dates of births, marriages, and deaths, lists of battles, patriotic and religious sentiments, all may be found on powder-horns. They have in many cases proved valuable historical records, and have sometimes been the only records of events. Mr. Rufus A. Grider, of Canajoharie, has made colored drawings of about five hundred of these powder-horns, and of canteens or drinking-horns. It is unfortunate that the ordinary processes of book-illustration give too scant suggestion of the variety, beauty, and delicacy of their decoration, to permit the reproduction of some of these powder-horns in these pages.

These habits of employing the spare moments of farm-life in the manufacture from wood of farm implements and various aids to domestic comfort, were not peculiar to New England farmers, nor invented by them. The old English farmer-author, Thomas Tusser, in his rhymed book, _Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry_, written in the sixteenth century (which Southey declared to be one of the most curious and formerly one of the most popular books in our language), was careful to give instructions in his "remembrances" and "doings" as to similar industries on the English farm and manor house. He says:--

    "Yokes, forks, and such other let bailie spy out And gather the same as he walketh about; And after, at leisure, let this be his hire, To beath them and trim them at home by the fire."

_To beath_ is to heat unseasoned wood to harden and straighten it.

    "If hop-yard or orchard ye mean for to have, For hop-poles and crotches in lopping go save.

    "Save elm, ash, and crab tree for cart and for plow, Save step for a stile of the crotch of a bough; Save hazel for forks, save sallow for rake: Save hulver and thorn, thereof flail for to make."

The Massachusetts Bay settlers came chiefly from the vicinity, many from the same county, where Tusser lived and farmed, and where his points of good husbandry were household words; so they had in their English homes as had their grandfathers before them, the knowledge and habit of saving and utilizing the various woods on the farm, and of occupying every spare minute with the useful jack-knife. The varied and bountiful trees of the New World stimulated and emphasized the whittling habit until it became universally accepted as a distinguishing New England characteristic, a Yankee trait.

This constant employment of every moment of the waking hours contributed to impart to New Englanders a regard and method of life which is spoken of by many outsiders with contempt, namely, a closely girded and invariable habit of economy. Children brought up in this way knew the value of everything in the household, knew the time it took to produce it, for they had labored themselves, and they grew to take care of small things, not to squander and waste what they had been so long at work on. This, instead of being a thing to sneer at, is one of the very best elements in a community, one of the best securities of character. For sudden leaps to fortune are given to but few, and are seldom lasting, and the results of sudden inflations are more disastrous even to a community than to isolated individuals, as may be abundantly proved by the early history of Virginia. It was not meanness that made the wiry New England farmer so cautious and exacting in trade, when the pennies he saved sent his son through college. It was not meanness which made him refuse to spend money; he had no money to spend, and it was a high sense of honor that kept him from running in debt. It was not meanness which so justly ordered conditions and cared for the unfortunate that even in those days of horrible drunkenness often there would not be a pauper in the entire village. It has been a reproach that in some towns the few town poor were vendued out to be cared for; the mode was harsh in its wording, and unfeeling in method, but in reality the pauper found a home. I have known cases where the pauper was not only supported but cherished in the families to whose lot she fell.