The Fowler Family Gets Dressed

Child Life in Colonial Days

Customs and Fashions in Old New England

"Ipswitch balls"—also the mode—were more pleasing:

"Take a pound of fine White Castill Sope; shave it thin in a pinte of Rose water, and let it stand two or three dayes, then pour all the water from it, and put to it a halfe a pinte of fresh water, and so let it stand one whole day, then pour out that, and put to it halfe a pinte more and let it stand a night more, then put to it halfe an ounce of powder called sweet Marjoram, a quarter of an ounce of Winter Savory, two or three drops of the Oil of Spike and the Oil of Cloves, three grains of musk, and as much Ambergreese, work all these together in a fair Mortar with the powder of an Almond Cake dryed and beaten as small as fine flowre, so rowl it round in your hands in Rose water."

The favorite soap, if one can judge from importations, was "Brown or Gray Bristol Sope" but this was not used by many in the community. The manufacture of home-made soap, of soft soap, was one of the univeral, most important, and most trying of all the household industries. The refuse grease of the family cooking was stowed away in an unsavory mass till early spring, and the wood ashes from the fire-places were also stored. When the soap-making took place, the ashes were placed in a leach tub out of doors. This tub was sometimes made from the section of the bark of a birch tree; it was set loosely in a circular groove in a base of wood, or preferably of stone. Water was poured on the ashes, and the lye trickled from an outlet cut in the groove. The boiling of the lye and grease was an ill-smelling process, which was also carried on out of doors, and required an enormous amount of labor and patience. It was judged that when the compound was strong enough to hold up an egg, the soap was done. This strong soft soap was kept in a wooden "soap box" in the kitchen, and used for toilet as well as household purposes.

Dearly did the English and the New English love perfumes. They made little rolls of sweet-scented powders and gums and oils, "as large as pease," that they placed between rose-leaves and burned on coals in skillets or in little perfume-holders to scent the room. They burned on their open hearths mint and rose-leaves with sugar. They took the "maste of sweet Apple trees gathered betwixt two Lady days," and with gums and perfumes made bracelets and pomanders, "to keep to one a sweet smell." They made cakes of damask rose-leaves and pulvilio, civit, and musk, of "linet and ambergreese," to perfume their linen chests, for lavender thrived not in New England. The duties of the still-room were the most luxury-bearing of all the old household industries. Its very name brings to us sweet scents of Araby, as it brought to our forbears the most charming and nice of all their domestic occupations. But these duties were not easy nor expeditious work, nor did all the work begin in the still-room. Faithfully did dames and maids gather in field and garden, from early spring to chilly autumn, precious stores for their stills and limbecks. In every garret, from every rafter, slowly swayed great susurrous bunches of withered herbs and simples awaiting expression and distillation, and dreaming perhaps of the summer breezes that had blown through them in the sunny days of their youth in their meadow homes. In many an old garret now bare of such stores "mints still perfume the air;" the very walls exhale "the homesick smell of dry forgotten herbs."

From these old stills, these retorts and mills, came not only perfumes and oils and beauty-waters, but half the medicines and diet-drinks, all the "kitchenphysicke" of the domestic and even the professional pharmacopaeia.

Perfumes were also imported; we frequently find advertised "Royal Honey Water, an Excellent Perfume, good against Deafness, and to make the hair grow as the directions Sets forth. 1s 6d per bottle and proportionate by Ounce." Old Zabdiel Boylston had it in 1712. Spirit of Benjamin was also for toilet uses. This was the base of the well-known scent known as Queen Elizabeth's Perfume. It was combined with sweet marjoram. Lavender water was apparently a great favorite for importation, and we find notices of lavender bottles with shagreen cases.

We find in newspaper days many advertisements of other toilet articles such as nail-knippers, pick-tooth cases, silk and worsted powder-puffs, deerskin powder bags, lip-salve, ivory scratch-backs, flesh brushes, curling and pinching tongs, all showing a strongly crescent vanity and love of luxury.

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This page was last updated on 12 Oct 2005