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Parent Category: 18th Century History Articles
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Staying warm, safe, and entertained in the cold winter months isn’t a huge problem in the modern era. There are even people who prefer colder climates, opting to live in areas where winter is the dominant season even when more temperate climates are readily available.

However, in the 18th century dealing with winter wasn’t as simple as throwing on a thick parka and enjoying some hot cocoa. While making it through the winter months wasn’t all about simply surviving, as there was also plenty to do in the way of entertainment, the people of the 18th century certainly faced a much more formidable challenge when it came to facing winter.

Dealing With The Cold

In the modern era, many people’s most pressing issue in regards to dealing with the winter cold is to make sure that their vehicles and RV’s are appropriately winterized. However, those living in the 18th century didn’t have to worry about mechanical vehicles sitting untended, and actually often found that the cold weather had a positive effect on their ability to get from place to place.

 

Roads that were once muddy froze over to create a stable platform for carts and packed snow allowed for sleds to move quickly. Even rivers became traversable due to the cold weather after freezing, allowing for shorter routes between towns. While transportation was made easier by the cold, freezing temperatures still posed a serious problem.

 

Meanwhile, many 18th century homes would have relied heavily on the massive fireplaces present in the majority of houses to keep those inside warm during the winter months. While the Pennsylvanian Germans invented ingenious stoves that could heat multiple floors of a home, English settlers in the Americas often found the kitchen to be the most comfortable place to be during the winter due to the gigantic roaring fireplace. More affluent homes were able to purchase cast-iron stoves which radiated heat more efficiently than the open flames of the large fireplaces that were often housed in detached kitchens.

 

Often, the best way to cope with the cold winter months was to simply stay inside as often as possible. While fireplaces and cast-iron stoves kept homes warm, the implementation of chamber pots, called “thunder jugs”, helped those living in the 18th century stay inside where it was warm even when nature beckoned them. When people were forced to venture out, the use of heavy woolen winter wear helped to keep the cold away, though the articles of clothing were a far cry from the lightweight winter clothes accessible to nearly anyone in the modern era.

Skiing As Necessity

The 18th century saw the tail-end of what is now known as “The Little Ice Age”, a period lasting from the years 1300 to about 1850. During this time the world saw much harsher winters than the previous and following centuries and many well-documented winter storms capable of dropping three feet of snow over a matter of hours. With these intense winters came not only the need to keep warm in the home but to find an easy way to travel for individuals without sleighs or wagons capable of handling the snow.

 

For this reason, skiing was seen as an apt method of travel during the 18th century. While today skiing is almost exclusively a winter leisure activity with areas like Denver, Colorado, and Vancouver, Canada touting year-round skiing for those who don’t want to wait for mother nature, skiing in the 18th century was done out of necessity. Trudging through deep snow on foot was not only slow but incredibly dangerous and skis offered those living in the 18th century a way to glide across deep snows quickly and safely.

 

Where modern skiing is a fun activity that has inspired an entire industry of ski resorts, the skiing of the 18th century wasn’t nearly as heart pumping. The skis of the 18th century were rudimentary and rigid, little more than curved planks of wood, where modern skis are made of composite fiberglass with metal edges for superior flexibility and handling. While it wasn’t likely that many 18th-century skiers would be barreling down the sides of mountains for pleasure, the simple act of skiing was often paramount to survival.

Survival

Living in the wilderness away from it all and off of the grid is an increasingly attractive prospect for many people living in the modern era. The idea of getting away from the pernicious technologies that can feel as though they detract from the quality of an individual's life instead of improving it, and disconnecting from the modern world and reconnecting with nature is almost poetic. However, even today isolated living comes with its own set of challenges in the forms of lack of accessible supplies, medical attention, and of course extreme cold weather.

 

Henry David Thoreau may have popularized a romanticized version of isolated living in Walden, but the reality that most faced in the 18th century when it came to dealing with winter was less than inspiring. To know what it was really like to live outside of a real community with appropriate infrastructure during a harsh winter in the 18th century, all one must do is look to the experiences of the soldiers in Valley Forge in the winters of 1777 and 1778. Lack of proper lodging, medical treatment, and supplies all while enduring a particularly hard winter led to widespread sickness and death within the ranks of the soldiers. Fortunately, civilians did not have to share cramped quarters and insufficient lodging.

 

18th-century settlers made the appropriate preparations for winter by stocking up on dried meats, fruits, and beans as well as root vegetables that could be stored easily. They would then throw all of these ingredients into a pot to make a hearty if not particularly appetizing stew. For warmth, they often relied on the body heat of animals, bringing them into the home to help generate heat that their woolen clothes could not provide.

 

Living through an 18th-century winter was certainly much more difficult than braving modern winters. However, with the right preparation of supplies, transport, and heating sources, residents of the 18th century made the best of a bad situation and survived.

About the Author:
Frankie Wallace contributes to a wide variety of blogs and writes about many different topics, including politics and the environment. Wallace currently resides in Boise, Idaho and is a recent graduate of the University of Montana.