pioneer life

In order to fully appreciate Davies Manor and other similar historic homes, we try to stress the hardships of pioneer life. Pioneers are those people who lead the march into a new territory and prepare the way for those who follow. They come into the wilderness to make their homes, better their fortunes and enjoy some freedoms they did not have in more settled areas of the United States. They expect to face dangers and endure hardships and they face both with courage and determination. Most of the pioneers entering the Western part of Tennessee were descended from English, Scots-Irish, Germans, Irish, French, and in the Davies’ case, Welsh. These first frontiersmen were hunters and herdsmen followed by agricultural settlers looking for land to farm and a place to raise their families. Clearing the land of trees to grow crops was very difficult.

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There were no roads or bridges so wagons and carts could not be used. The pioneer moved into the wilderness on foot or horseback and brought his household on packhorses or mules. They brought essential items for housekeeping, including clothes for the family, blankets and bedding, mattresses filled with grass, horsehair, moss or other suitable materials, a large cooking pot, an oven, a skillet, a frying pan, a handmill to grind grains, a wooden bowl to make bread, a few pewter plates, cups and other dishes, some axes, hoes, iron parts for plows, a broadax, a froe, a saw, and an auger. Add to this, supplies of seeds for field crops, garden vegetables, and fruit trees.

When the pioneer family reached the place to settle, the men and boys cut down trees to build a log house. They split boards with a froe and made a roof, split logs and sawed the sides flat and smoothed them to make a floor and door shutters, built the chimney of logs and split sticks, covering the inside of the chimney with a heavy coat of clay to keep the wood parts from catching fire. They finished the house by filling the spaces between the logs with small strips of wood called chink and a clay mortar called daub to keep out the cold. The cabin was rather rough and not very handsome but strong and warm.

The frontiersmen made rough, strong beds and tables, benches and three-legged stools and drove pegs into the walls or fastened up some deer horns to be used as racks for clothing, guns and other articles. He hired craftsmen to make a spinning wheel and a handloom for his wife and daughters to use. Bed frames were slabs of wood supported at one end by wooden pegs driven into the wall. Tables were wooden planks set on four legs.

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Horses and cattle were turned into the woods to eat grass in the summer and cane in the winter. They came home in the evening to get salt and a little grain to add to their diet. Fathers and sons cut trees and bushes to clear land for planting crops. They made rail fences, piled brush and burned it, then plowed and planted.

-2Imagine what kind of clothes pioneer families would wear: Fathers and sons wore deerskin pants and shirts. The hunting shirt fitted loosely and reached halfway down to the thigh and was fringed at the bottom. It was open down the front and had a belt that tied at the waist. In this belt the frontiersmen carried a small hatchet or tomahawk, and a very long, sharp hunting knife. He wore a hat of animal skin very often with the tail of the animal forming a tassel. He had a long muzzle loading, flintlock rifle and a leather pouch hanging by a strap over his shoulder. In this pouch he carried gun wipers, tow (unspun flax fibers used to make fires and good for cleaning muskets), patching, bullets and flints, and fastened to the strap was a horn in which he carried powder for his guns.

05541vMothers and daughters wore bonnets, dresses, and shawls. Dresses were made out of coarse linen or cotton dyed in different colors using nuts, berries, and other natural dyes. There were no sewing machines so dresses were very plain with few ruffles and tucks for decoration. Most women and girls had little or no jewelry. Cotton was not grown very much then – people used linen (made from the flax plant) and wool. They spun these into thread with a hand/spinning wheel, wove the thread into cloth and cut out to make clothing at home. The daughters and mothers spun, wove, knitted, cooked, washed, dressed skins, tended gardens, took care of farm animals and did many other chores. All the cooking was done over the fireplace.