Diary of an Early American Boy

Creating the Commonwealth

Customs and Fashions in Old New England

the opulent Jane Humphreys, of Dorchester, left "two wrought Napkins with no lace around it," "half a duzzen of napkins," and "napkins wrought about and laced." In 1680 Robert Adams had six "diaper knapkins." Captain Tyng had in 1653 four dozen and a half of napkins, of which two dozen were of "layd worke." It has been said that these napkins were handkerchiefs, not table napkins; but I think the way they are classed in inventories does not so indicate. For instance, in the estate of Captain Corwin, a wealthy man, who died in Salem in 1685, was a "suit of Damask 1 Table cloth, 18 napkins, 1 Towel," valued at £8. Occasionally, however, they are specially designated as "pocket napkins," as in the estate of Elizabeth Cutter in 1663, where four are valued at one shilling.

Early English books on table manners, such as "The Babees Boke" and "The Boke of Nurture," though minute in detail, yet name no other table-furniture than cups, chafing-dishes, chargers, trenchers, salt-cellars, knives, and spoons. The table plenishings of the planters were somewhat more varied, but still simple; when our Pilgrim fathers landed at Plymouth, the collection of table-ware owned by the entire band was very meagre. With the exception of a few plate-silver tankards and drinking-cups, it was also very inexpensive. The silver was handsome and heavy, but items of silver in the earliest inventories are rare. By the beginning of the eighteenth century silver became plentiful, and the wills even of humble folk contain frequent mentions of it. Ministers, doctors, and magistrates had many handsome pieces. By the middle of the century a climax was reached, as in the possessions of Peter Faneuil, when pieces of furniture were of solid silver.

The salt-cellar was the focus of the old-time board. In earlier days, in England, to be seated above or below the salt plainly spoke the social standing of a guest. The "standing salt" was often the handsomest furnishing of the table, the richest piece of family plate. Comfort Starr, of Boston, had, in 1659, a "greate Siluer-gilt double Saltceller." Isaac Addington bequeathed by will his "Bigges Siluer Sewer & Salt." A sewer was a salver. As we note by the list of Judith Sewall's wedding furniture in 1720, standing salts were out of date, and "trencher salt-cellars" were in fashion. Four dozen was a goodly number, and evinced an intent of bounteous hospitality. These trencher-salts were of various shapes and materials: "round and oval pillar-cut Salts, Bonnet Salts, 3 Leg'd Salts," were all of glass; others were of pewter, china, hard metal, and silver.

The greater number of spoons owned by the colonists were of pewter or of alchymy—or alcamyne, ocamy, ocany, orkanie, alcamy, or occonie—a metal composed of pan-brass and arsenicum. The reference in inventories, enrolments, and wills, to spoons of these materials are so frequent, so ever-present, as to make citation superfluous. An evil reputation of poisonous unhealthfulness hung around the vari-spelled alchymy (perhaps it is only a gross libel of succeeding generations); but, harmful or harmless, alchymy, no matter

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