This is a serialization of the new book written by Carl Flowers, owner of Silveus Plantation, the subject of "Groton's Anonymous Mistress." This 300-year-old house is accessed by Kemp Street near the boundary of Groton and Dunstable.
By Carl Flowers
Candles were important to the Mistress's inhabitants ... Matches didn't make the scene until 1827. When they did, their first appearance was in England. A few more years would be needed before they became affordable and conveniently available for purchase in the United States.
Kerosene lamps wouldn't have come to the Mistress until the late 1860s when the railroads began hauling fuel oil from the oil fields in the Midwest to the east coast.
Bear in mind, electricity never came to the Mistress until 1950. That was forty-one years after it was first being brought to Groton. Even today, Groton Electric doesn't supply electricity to the Mistress. Lighting a candle to get down a narrow flight of stairs resembling a ship's ladder to go to the outhouse wasn't going to happen. When easy to strike matches came to the Mistress, things might have changed, but if they didn't, the chamber pot would be used as it sat ready at the edge of the bed. A complete chamber set consisted of a basin, a large mouth pitcher, a cup, and a pot for relieving oneself at night. Only two partial chamber sets remain at the Mistress
The most significant feature of the Mistress is the kitchen fireplace. It's about five feet across the front, three feet, eight inches high, and two feet deep. The focal point for nearly all family activity was the kitchen. The fireplace was the draw. It burned all day long and during the cooler seasons of the year, the kitchen was warmest room in the house.
That didn't mean the kitchen was warm all the way to the outside walls on extremely cold days. When the most frigid days of winter made the scene, blankets might have been hung from the ceiling. This way, heat could be better confined to a designated area. Seat rotation was another practice. Every few minutes, family members switched seats with each other to keep warm. When the person closest to the fire was warm, they would take the seat furthest away from the fire. The person sitting beside them scooted over so that they sat directly in front of the fire. The routine continued until bed time. That's the way they stayed warm.
Even with these tactics, everyone more than likely wore heavy clothes around the house. It couldn't be any other way because most of the heat went up the chimney. As late as 1980, none of the Mistress's fireplaces had dampers. On those rare occasions when the kitchen fire went out during the night, cold air rushed down the chimney. If the fire did go out, a new fire had to be started in the morning by striking a spark from a piece of flint. Short of this being successful, someone had to go calling on a neighbor for some hot coals. The neighbor probably didn't live across the street. And then, you always had to be on guard for flying sparks shooting out of the fireplace.
A swinging crane extends across the Mistress's fireplace so that two or three adjustable hooks could be hung from it. Pots were suspended from the hooks, to cook each day's meal. Thick stews were common with lots of vegetables. Dinner was basically a boiled meal. Many other different types of cooking utensils could be found in close proximity to the fireplace, besides the pots. Irrespective of whether the item was a frying pan or a grill, they all had three legs so that they could be set on a bed of hot coals.
Things like spoons, forks, and ladles had extremely long handles. One of the most commonly used utensils, along with the suspended pots hanging from the crane, was the Dutch oven. It was nothing more than a shallow kettle on three legs that could stand over hot coals with an extremely deep lid. Hot glowing coals could be placed on the lid. The contents of the Dutch oven received heat from above and below so that the kettle's contents cooked evenly.
One item having nothing to do with cooking, but was always in close proximity to the fireplace, was a bed warmer. At bed time it was filled with hot coals and briskly thrust between the bed's covers and vigorously moved from the headboard to the footboard so that the bedding wouldn't scorch or catch on fire. If the bed wasn't warm when you climbed in, you shivered for an extended period time before going to sleep.