Now I know for a fact that there are followers of this blog that are “survivalists” and or “preppers”. But this is an 18th century blog, so although I consider myself to be a survivalist also, it is not a 21st century issue that I can write about on this blog. However, you have obviously already worked out the link here, so I will continue to let you draw your own comparisons and reading between the lines.
From the word go in the 18th century new settlers travelling to the new world found themselves in a survival situation; not only did they have to try and find tools and equipment that they would need in the new country, but they had to survive the trip to the New World. Self-defence and defence of their property was an issue, and if anyone became so sick that they could not look after themselves, there was a good chance that they would be thrown overboard to drown.
"I noticed particularly, one family of about 12 in number. The man carried an axe and a gun on his shoulders. The Wife, the rim of a spinning wheel in one hand, and a loaf of bread in the other. Several little boys and girls, each with a bundle, according to their size Two poor horses, each heavily loaded with some poor necessities. On the top of the baggage of one, was an infant rocked to sleep in a kind of wicker cage, lashed securely to the horse. A cow formed one of the company ,and she was destined to bear her proportion of service - a bed cord was wound around her horns and a bag of meal on her back. They were not only patient, but cheerful and pleased with themselves with the expectation of seeing happy days beyond the mountains"
Diary of Presbyterian Rev. David McClure. 18th century.
Diary of Presbyterian Rev. David McClure. 18th century.
Once in the New World they may have to trade for or purchase other needed items for their survival. These tools and equipment were very basic but very necessary for their protection and survival beyond civilization. Not only were there dangers on the trail to their homestead, but there was dangers when they reached their destination. Wild animals were the least of their worries compared to the woodland Indians. These natives saw these settlers as invaders of their land, which they were! So they would kill, take prisoners and burn the settler’s homes if they could. The only way the settlers could avoid such a threat was through continuous vigilance and being armed at all times, even when working the land.
Women and children were not only trained in the use of flintlock guns, but they also knew how to mould round ball from moulten lead. The flintlock gun was particularly suited to use in a wilderness situation, far more so than the later percussion guns. The flintlock only required a sharp piece of flint or similar hard rock for the ignition, and this could often be found in the forests and fields. The spent lead could be retrieved from shot game and remoulded into ball or shot for reuse, so gunpowder could be traded for or purchased in larger quantities instead of continuously purchasing lead. This was particularly important when travelling on foot over long distances, as there was less weight in lead to carry. This also meant that the ammunition lasted much longer.
Knives were very basic items; individuals often owned and carried more than one knife. Butcher knives were a trade item and the favourite of woodsmen and Indians alike. This light but sturdy and often quite large blade was well suited to skinning and butchering game, as well as being a good tool for self-defence. Often a larger butcher knife would be carried in a sheath under the waist belt, plus a smaller version could be carried as a legging knife and a clasp knife carried in a waistcoat pocket. These knives combined with a trade axe, also typically carried under the waist belt along with a flintlock gun and perhaps a matching caliber flintlock pistol were all the arms a woodsman or settler may carry for his/her defence and sustenance.
Foods were fairly plain, consisting typically of corn grown in their own fields plus perhaps beans and pumpkins. These were also known as the three sisters by the Indians, as these three foods were often grown together. Meat was often dried, which was the easiest way to preserve it without the use of salt. Corn or wheat flour for baking bread plus fresh meat hunted in the woods could sustain a family for a very long time. Excess farm produce could be traded for lead, gunpowder, tools, cloth, salt, needles and thread and perhaps some rum or coffee.
“the squashes or pumpkins are cut in slices, drawn upon a thread , and dried. They keep all year long, and are then boiled or stewed”. Peter Kalm 1749.
Fires were easily lit using a tinderbox. The term tinderbox not only refers to the actual box itself, but also encompasses the flint, steel & tinder that this box contained. In the city people were used to using charred tow rag or German tinder bought from street criers or from the apothecary shop. But in the wilderness there was a variety of wild plants that could be used to produce tinder, punk wood probably being the most common but also some species of bracket fungus and the fluffy heads of the cattail plant. This was a sustainable fire lighting method that was always available to the woodsman, settler and Indian alike, plus the lock of the flintlock gun could be used to make fire without the use of gunpowder.
Apart from all the basic equipment carried by the new settler into the wilderness the other needed items were tools to work the land and perhaps a spinning wheel. Some farming tools may have been carried with handles and stails attached so they could also be used as weapons for defence. Other tools such as picks and mattocks may have consisted of the heads only; the handles to be made and fitted when they reached their wilderness destination. This made them easier to carry in a sack or a bag.
“I gave orders to them to go home and fetch their arms whether guns, swords, pitchforks, axes or whatsoever might be of use against the enemy and for three days provision in their knapsacks” Letter to Gov. Morris, from Conrad Weiser, Esq. 10/27/1755
Water was a much needed item, and probably the heaviest item these settlers had to carry. It makes sense then that where they could, they would have followed a water course; a river or creek, and to actually settle close to that water supply. Some historians claim that most of the settlers travel was in fact by water, but period accounts of settler travel do not bare this out. Water courses were in some instances too low to accommodate a canoe, let alone a loaded boat. But I daresay where the waters were deep enough, this mode of travel was in deed an option.
So let us recap the situation of the settler in the New World. Having survived the trip to this strange land they were then faced with arduous travel over unknown trails through dark forests in search of land to settle. If they survived this journey they then had to settle the land by clearing trees, building a shelter for their accommodation whilst they worked on constructing a larger and more secure cabin. The cleared land had to be cultivated and planted, as did the garden in which they would grow some vegetables and herbs and perhaps some fruit trees.
Having built the cabin their chances of surviving were increased as this structure gave them much more security than their earlier primitive shelter. With a bar on the heavy timber door and shutters on the windows, the cabin was a veritable fort compared to the makeshift shelter. From inside this cabin they could defend themselves against Indian war parties. Only two things could threaten their security, their vulnerability when working outside, and fire. Wise settlers carried their arms at all times, even when working in the fields, and water was always brought into the cabin early each morning. Even so the whole family had to remain vigilant at all times. A good look round surveying the area around the cabin was paramount before leaving the security of these four walls to perform any chore, especially early in the morning.
The children too had their chores, fetching water, collecting firewood, tending and feeding any livestock, and perhaps checking a small local trap line. Cleaning chores were usually handled by the women and girls of the family, the boys and men worked the fields and hunted for meat. Sometimes the men were more hunter than farmer; such was the case with Daniel Boone. Whilst Boone was away hunting for deer skins, his wife and children run the farm. In the case of the farmer/hunter, the men do most of the farming, but occasionally hunt for meat for the table. Whilst the men are away, the women and children must be especially vigilant for any sign of danger from Indians or white renegades. The men too are in constant danger from Indian attack whilst hunting in the forest. This then is the life of the settler, ever on their guard day and night. Was there time for fun and leisure? Certainly there must have been. After a hard days work when they were relatively safe inside with the door and the shutters barred, especially in winter around a warm fire when the days were so short. Story telling was a great event for adults and children alike; a good time for carving spoons or perhaps shaving an arrow shaft, or making a snare or reading a book.
Living in the wilderness had its compensations for these new settlers. They came searching for freedom, for a place to call their own. Looking back we can see that their occupation of this new land was entirely wrong, it was already home to the native peoples. But then again can we blame them for wanting to leave their impoverished life back in the Old Country in search of freedom in the New?