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Pioneer Life for Licking County residents

Excerpts from pages 227 - 234 of History of Licking County, Ohio: Its Past and Present detailing how they obtained food, shelter, clothing and schooling.

The pioneers of Licking were largely from New England, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, who sought to better their condition by making permanent homes in the wilderness west of the Ohio river. They came largely on foot over the Alleghany mountains, many of them having a single horse and wagon, or a two-horse wagon, in which their worldly possessions were carried, and in which the very old or very young, only, were allowed to ride.

When once settled and his cabin erected, it was not only a home and shelter for himself and family, but for every stranger who passed that way, "without money and without price." The latch string was always out, for these pioneers were great hearted people, and no man, be he white, black or red, was turned away empty. Their cabins, often not more than fifteen or twenty feet square, made of rough beech logs with the bark still adhering to them, were frequently occupied by a dozen or even a score of people for a night, and no complaints made for want of room; genuine hospitality always find room enough and never apologized for lack of more; and when breakfast time came there was no apology for the scarcity of knives, forks and spoons, for 'fingers were made before any of these.'The fare was homely, but generally abundant. What to eat and wear were questions not, perhaps, difficult of solution in those days.

The first was the easiest to solve. The deer, the bear, the wild turkey, the rabbit, the squirrel, all started up and said, or seemed to say 'eat me." These had been prepared for the red men of the forest, and were equally abundant for the pioneer. The forest was full of game, the streams full of fish, and wild fruits were abundant. To get bread required both patience and labor; the staff of life was one of the articles that must be earned 'by the sweat of the brow;' it could not be gathered from the bushes, fished from the streams, or brought down with the rifle.

Every backwoodsman once a year added to his clearing, at least a 'truck patch.' This was the hope and stay of the family; the receptacle of corn, beans, melons, potatoes, squashes, pumpkins, turnips, etc., each variety more perfectly developed and delicious because it grew on virgin soil. The corn and beans planted in May brought roasting ears and succotash in August. Potatoes came with the corn, and the cellar, built in the side of a convenient cliff or hill, and filled with the contents of the truck patch, secured the family against want. When the corn grew too hard for roasting ears, and was yet too soft to grind in the mill, it was reduced to meal by a grater, and whether stirred into mush or baked into johnny-cake, it made, for people with keen appetites and good stomachs, excellent food. Place before one of those brawny backwoodsmen a square foot of johnny-cake and a venison steak broiled on hickory coals, and no art of civilization could produce a more satisfactory meal.

Next to the grater comes the hominy block, an article in common use among the pioneers. It consisted simply of a block of wood - a section of a tree, perhaps - with a hole burned, or dug, into it a foot deep, in which corn was pulverized with a pestle. Sometimes this block was inside the cabin, where it served as a seat for the bashful young buckskinned backwoodsman while 'sparking' his girl; sometimes a convenient stump in front of the cabin door was prepared for, and made one of the best of hominy blocks. When pigs began to be raised, the natural relation between pork and beaten corn suggested the grand old idea of 'hog and hominy.'

Hominy blocks did not last long, for mills came quite early and superseded them, yet these mills were often so far apart that in stormy weather, or for want of transportation, the pioneer was compelled to resort to his hominy block, or go without bread. In winter, the mills were frozen up nearly all the time, and when a thaw came and the ice broke, if the mill was not swept away entirely by the floods, it was so thronged with pioneers, each with his sack of corn, that some of them were compelled to camp out near the mill and wait several days for their turn. When the grist was ground, if there were so fortunate as to possess an ox, a horse, or a mule, for the purpose of transportation, they were happy. It was no unusual to go from ten to twenty miles to mill, through pathless, unbroken forest, and to be benighted on the journey; and chased or treed by wolves. A majority of the pioneers, however, settled in the vicinity of a stream, upon which mills were rapidly erected. These mills were very primitive affairs - mere 'corn crackers' - but they were an improvement on the hominy block. They merely ground the corn, the pioneer must do his own bolting.

A wire sieve was then one of the most important articles of household furniture. It always hung in its place, on a wooden peg, just under the ladder that reached to the loft. The meal was sifted and the finest used for bread. How delicious was that 'Indian pone,' baked in a large deep skillet, which was placed upon coals raked from the fire-place to the hearth. Fresh coals were continually placed under it and upon the iron lid until the loaf, five or six inches thick, was done through. This was a different thing from johnny-cake; it was better, and could not always be had, for to make it good, a little wheat flower was needed, and wheat flour was a precious thing in those very early days.

A road cut through the forest to the mill, and a wagon for hauling the grist, were great advantages, the latter especially was often a seven day's wonder to the children of a neighborhood, and the happy owner of one often did, for years, the milling for a whole neighborhood. About once a month this good neighbor who was in exceptionally good circumstances, because able to own a wagon, would go about through the neighborhood, gather up the grists and take them to the mil, often spending several days in the operation, and never think of charging for his time and trouble.

The cultivation of domestic animals, both beasts and fowls, for purposes of food, began early. Cows for milk, butter, beef, and leather, and wine for pork, were bread, ear marked and turned into the woods to browse.'Root hog or die,' was the law for man and beast, but the woods were prolific and the hogs great fat. The young pis were exceptionally a sweet morsel for the bear. Bruin always singled out these young animals in preference to any other meat; but the pigs were often successfully defended by the older hogs, who, upon the least signs of distress from one of their number, would go boldly to the rescue, and fiercely attack the foe, however formidable; often the pig was released and bruin, or the panther, compelled to ascent a tree for safety.

The boys often found wild turkey nests in the woods, and would bring home the eggs, and place them, to be hatched, upon a trusty old hen, in an outside chimney corner, where they could assist the hen in defending the eggs and brood from the opossum or hawk. A flock of turkeys sometimes originated in this way, but more often, as they grew to maturity,  they would fly away into the woods and never reappear.This grandest of birds is identical in civilized and savage life, and is the peculiar production of America. The wild ones were always a dark brown, like the leaves of their native woods, but when tamed, or 'civilized,' the diversity of color becomes endless.

When corn-bread and milk were eaten for breakfast, hog and hominy for dinner, and mush and milk for supper, there was little room for tea and coffee; and at a time when one bushel of wheat for a pound of coffee and four bushels for a pound of tea, were considered a fair exchange, but little of these very expensive articles was used.

Next to water, the drink of the pioneers was whiskey - corn or rye whiskey. Everybody drank it. It was supposed to be indispensable to health, and a protection against the morning fogs. It was supposed to be indispensable to strength and endurance during the labors of the day, and to sleep at night. It was supposed to be absolutely indispensable to warmth and animation in cold, chilly winter weather. It was the sacrament of friendship and hospitality; it was in universal use; yet there was probably less drunkenness in those days than at present.The whiskey was absolutely pure; it was not drugged, doctors or poisoned as it is to-day, and although enough of it would bring drunkenness, it did not bring delirium-tremens, or leave the system prostrated, and the victim with a head-ache upon 'sobering up." It was the first thing in demand as an article of commerce. Stills for its manufacture sprung up everywhere, all along the streams. Pioneers soon found a market at these stills for their corn, hence corn became the great crop, and whiskey the great article of commerce. It was the only thing that would bring money, and money they must have to pay taxes. Whiskey could be purchased for twelve or fifteen cents per gallon and paid for in corn, and the barrel of whiskey in the cellar, was as common as the barrel of cider was later. The whiskey that was not consumed at home was shipped on flat-boats or pirogues (a canoe dug out of a log, or two canoes lashed together) on the Muskingum, Ohio and the Mississippi rivers to New Orleans and sold for Spanish gold. The rebellion against the government of the United States, commonly called the whiskey insurrection, had its growth out of the hardships of the Scotch-Irish of western Pennsylvania, who in the mother county had learned to love whiskey and hate gaugers; and this population gave tone and character to the first settlers of eastern Ohio. There was this apology for the production of whiskey, that it was the only means of disposing of surplus crops, or bringing money into the country.

The hardy pioneers, after disposing of their cargo of whiskey in New Orleans, would set out for home - a distance of say fifteen hundred miles. Think of it, ye who ride in palace coaches at the rate of forty miles an hour while reclining in cushioned seats, smoking your cigar, and reading your morning paper the happenings of yeasterday in Europe and America. While apologizing somewhat for those whiskey days, it may be well to say the whiskey was not probably of any special benefit, was not to be compared to the pure water of their springs, and that too many of the pioneers drank too much of it, and that too often it made their eyes and noses red, their children ragged and their wives wretched, as it does to-day.

In clothing the pioneers conformed to the circumstances in which they were placed. The almost universal costume for men was the linsey-woolsey hunting shirt, or wamus, blue, butternut, or red, according to the fancy of the wearer; in buckskin pants and moccasins, and sometimes in winter, a waist-coat of the skin of a panther, wild cat or spotted fawn. In summer, when it could be had, linen was made up into wearing apparel.

The flax was grown in the summer, scutched in the fall, and during the long winter evenings was heard the buzz of the little flax wheel, which had a place in every cabin. Even those who are not pioneers remember this flax wheel, for it was in use as late as 1850 or later. It stood in a corner, generally ready for use by having a large bundle of flax wrapped around its forked stick, a thread reaching to the spindle, and a little gourd filled with water hanging conveniently at the bottom of the flax stick, and whenever the good pioneer mother had a little spare time from cooking for a dozen work-hands, caring for a dozen children, milking a dozen cows, and taking care of the milk and butter, besides doing all the housework and keeping everything clean and neat as a pin, she would sit down to this wheel and with foot on the treadle and nimble fingers, pile thread upon thread on the spindle, to be reeled off on a wooden reel that countered every yard with a snap, and then it was ready for the great loom that occupied the loft. This loom was a wonder - it would be a wonder today with its great beams, larger than any beams they put in houses to-day - its treadles, its shuttles, etc. Day after day could be heard the pounding of that loom, the treadles went up and down, the shuttles flew swiftly from one hand to the other through the labryinth of warp, and yard after yard of cloth rolled upon the great roller. And then this cloth was to be cut into little and big clothes and made up with the needle; and, remember, this and a great deal more than any one can think of was to be gone through with every year.

Wool went through the same operation, only it was spun on the large wheel, colored with butternut bark and other things, but woven on the loom and made up for winter clothing.


'Kicking frolics' were in vogue in those early times. This was after wool was more plenty, and it was carded, spun, and wove into cloth. Half a dozen young men and an equal number of young women (for the 'fun of the thing' it was always necessary to preserve a balance of this kind) were invited to the kicking frolic. The cabin floor was cleared for action and a half a dozen chairs, or stools, placed in in a circle in the center and connected by a cord to prevent recoil. On these the six young men seated themselves with boots and stockings off, and pants rolled up above the knee. Just think of making love in that shape. The cloth was placed in the center, wet with soap-suds and then the kicking commenced by measured steps driving the bundle of cloth round and round, the elderly lady with gourd in hand pouring on more soap-suds, and every now and then, with spectacles on nose and yard-stick in hand, measuring the goods until there were shrunk to the desired width, and then calling the lads to a dead halt. Then while the lads put on hose and boots, the lasses with sleeves rolled up above the elbow, rung out the cloth and put it out on the garden fence to dry.When this was done the cabin floor was again cleared and the supper spread, after which,  with their numbers increased somewhat, perhaps they danced the happy hours of the night away until midnight, to the music of a violin, and the commands of some amateur cotillon caller, and were ready to attend another such frolic the following night.

The costumes of the women deserves a passing notice. The pioneers proper, of course, brought with them something to wear like that in use where they came from; but this could not last always, and new apparel, such as the new country afforded, had to be provided. Besides, the little girls sprang up into womanhood with the rapidity of the native butterweed, and they must be made both decent and attractive, and what is more, they were willing to aid in making themselves so.

The flax patch, therefore, became a thing of as prime necessity as the truck patch.On the side next to the woods the flax grew tall, slender and delicate, and was carefully by the girls and kept by itself to make finery of. The stronger growth did well enough for clothing for the men,  and warp for the linsey-woolsey, and even every-day dresses for the women, but for Sundays, when everybody went to 'meeting,' the girls, especially, wanted something nice, just as they do to-day. This fine flax, therefore, was carefully pulled, carefully dyed in divers colors, and carefully woven in cross-barred figures, tastefully diversified, straining a point to get Turkey-red enough to put a single thread between the duller colors to make their outline like the circle around a dove's eye. Of such goods the rustic beauty made her Sunday gown, and then with her vandyke of snow-white homespun linen, her snow-white home-knit stocking, and possibly white kid slippers, she was a sight for sore eyes and often sore hearts. No point or arsenic was needed, for active exercise in the open air under a sunbonnet, or a broad-brimmed hat, make by her mother out of rye straw, gave her cheek an honest healthful glow, and to her eyes the brightness and beauty of a fawn's. Possible those white kid slippers have caused a node of skepticism. This is the way it was done. Her brother, or lower, shot six fine squirrels; she tanned the skins herself in a sugar-trough, and had them made up at considerable expense and trouble to wear on Sundays and state occasions. Possibly it may be wondered how the slippers would look after walking five or ten miles through the mud to church, as was frequently done. There were ways of doing these things that were only whispered among the girls but have leaked out; and the same process was indulged in more or less by young men, who were fortunate enough to own a pair of fine boots; and that was, to wear the every-day shoes or boots, or go barefoot to within a few rods of the 'meeting house,' and then step into the woods and take the wraps from the precious shoes and put them on.


The houses,  or huts, in which these pioneers lived have been often described; their form and proportions, and in general appearance have been repeatedly impressed upon the mind of the student of history. They were built of round logs with the bark on, outside chimneys of mud and sticks, puncheon floors, clapboard roof, with and without a loft or second floor, and all put together without a nail or particle of iron from top to bottom. These buildings stood many a year after the original inhabitant moved into better quarters. They served for stables, sheep pens, hay houses, pig pens, smith shops, hen houses, loom shops, school houses, etc. Some of them are yet standing in this county, and occupied to some extend, in some portions of the county as dwellings.

A second grade of log cabin, built later, was quite an improvement on the first, being made of hewn logs, with sawed lumber for doors and window frames and floors. Glass also took the place of paper windows of the old cabins; nails were sparingly used in these better cabins. When nails were first used, for a few years a pound of them was exchanged for a bushel of wheat. They were a precious article, and were made by hand on a blacksmith's anvil, out of odds and ends of old worn-out sickles, scythes, broken clevis pins, links of chain, broken horse-shoes, etc., all welded together to eke out the nail rods from which there were forged.

The first cabins were erected ready for occupation in a single day. In an emergency, the pioneers collected together, often going eight or ten miles to a cabin raising, and in the great woods, where not a tree had been felled or a stone turned, began with dawn the erection of a cabin. Three or four wise builders would set the corner-stones, lay on the square and level the first round of logs; two men with axes would cut the trees and logs; one with his team of oxen, a 'lizzard' and a log-chair would 'snake' them in; two more, with axes, cross-cut saw and frow would make the clapboards; two more, with axes, cross-cut saw and broad-axe would hew out the puncheons and flatten the upper side of the sleepers and joists. Four skillful axemen would carry up the corners, and the remainder with skids and forks or hand-spikes would roll up the logs.

As soon as the joists were laid on, the cross-cut saw was brought from the woods, and two men went to work  cutting out the door and chimney place; and while the corner men were building up the attic and putting on the room, the carpenters and masons of the day were putting down the puncheons, laying the hearth and building the chimney high enough to keep out the beasts, wild or tame. In one corner, at a distance of six feet from one wall, and four from the other, the best post is placed. One is all that's needed. A hole is bored in the puncheon floor for the purpose of setting this post (which is usually a stick with a crotch or fork in the upper end) in; or if any auger is not at hand, a hole is cut in the puncheon floor and the fork is sharpened and driven in to the ground beneath; rails are laid from this fork to the wall, and usually nice, straight hickory poles form the bottom, upon which straw or leaves are placed and the blanket put on.This makes a comfortable spring bed and is easily changed and kept clean.

Often the chinking and daubing of the walls, putting in windows and hanging the door were left until fall or some leisure time after the corn crop and contents of the truck patch were secured. Often the pioneer did not erect a cabin at all until a crop was secured- living, meanwhile in their covered wagons, and cooking beside a lot in the open air, or erecting a 'pole cabin,' or 'brush cabin,' mere temporary affairs, to shelter the family until time could be had for erecting a permanent one. The saving of the crop was of more importance during the summer season than shelter; but when the first frost came, a sure indication of approaching winter, active preparations were made for the permanent cabin, and the work was pushed forward until a snug cabinet stood in the midst of the forest, with a clearing around it, made principally by cutting down the trees for the building. Every crack was chinked and daubed with ordinary clay mixed with water, and when completed, a fire of hickory logs in the great fire-place, no amount of cold could seriously disturb the inmates.

The heavy door was hung on wooden hinges, and all that was necessary to lock it at night was to pull the latch-string inside, and the strong wooden latch held it fast against wild animals or storms. Thieves there were none, and even had there been, there was nothing in the hut of a settler to tempt their cupidity. Many of these cabins have no loft or second floor, but when this was added it was used as a sleeping room for the younger members of the family, and as a general store-room for the household goods, and often for the corn crop and the contents of the truck patch.

At a little later time, say from 1820 to 1840, the pioneers were living a little easier. Their farms were partially cleared, many of them were living in hewed log houses and many in frame and even brick houses. Most of them had barns and innumerable out-houses. They generally had cattle, horses, sheep, hogs and poultry, and were living in comparative comfort. Their neighbors were near and always dear. Their schools and churches had improved somewhat, yet even at this late date there were hundreds of log school-houses and churches.

About three months in a year was all the schooling a farmer's boy could get. He was sadly needed at home from the age of five years, to do all sorts of chores and work on the farm. He was wanted to drive the cows to water and to pasture; to feed the pigs and chickens and gather the eggs. His duties in the summer were multifarious; the men were at work in the field harvesting, and generally worked from early morning until late at night, and the boys were depended on to 'do the chores;' hence it was impossible to spare them to attend school in summer. There was no school in spring and fall. In winter they were given three month's schooling - a very poor article of schooling, too, generally. Their books were generally anything they happened to have about the house, and even as late as 1850, there was no system in the purchase of school books. Mr. Smucker says his first reading books at school were Patrick Gaas' Journal of the Lewis and Clark expedition to the mouth of the Columbia river in 1804-5-6; and Weem's Life of Washington. Parents of children bought whatever book pleased their fancy, or whatever the children desired them to purchase. A geography was a geography, and a grammar a grammar, regardless of who was the author.
This great confusion in school books made trouble for the teacher, but that was of small moment. He was hired and paid to teach whatever branches, out of whatever books the parents thought was best. The branches generally taught in the early schools, however, were reading, writing, spelling and arithmetic, and later, geography and grammar.

Boys attending school but three months in a year made but little progress. They began at the beginning of their books every winter, and went as far as they could in three months; then forgot it all during the nine months out of school, commencing again  the next winter just where they commenced the previous one. In this way they went over and over the same lessons every year under different teacher (for many of the teachers only taught one term in a place), often getting no further in arithmetic than 'vulgar fractions' or the 'rule of three,' and in their old Webster's spelling books the first class probably got as far as 'antiscorbutic' and may be through, while the second class would get as far as 'cessation,' and the third class probably not through 'baker,' certainly not beyond 'amity.' There were always three or four classes in spelling and this exercise was the last before school was dismissed in the evening. Their old books were conned over year after year until they were worn out and the children grew up to manhood and womanhood, and never knew, and perhaps do not know to this day, what was in the back part of them. That was the kind of start many a great man had. These schools cannot be despised when it is remembered that the greatest and best of the nation, including such men as Abraham Lincoln, Edwin M. Stanton, and Stephen A. Douglas, were among the boys who attended them.

There was always much competition in the spelling classes as to who should get the 'head mark.' In the later schools it was the custom that the best speller might stand at the head until he missed, wen the one who spelled the word correctly should take his place, and he then stood next to the head; but they did things differently in the earlier schools, the head of the class once gained and held until the last spelling at night, the head mark was received and the lucky scholar then took his place at the foot of the class, to again work his way gradually to the head. These classes sometimes contained thirty or forty scholars, and it was something of an undertaking to get from the foot to the head. Spelling-schools were the beauty and glory of school-days. The scholars were always coaxing the teacher to appoint a night for a spelling-school, and were usually gratified one or two nights in a month or oftener.

A night was chosen when the moon shone, and the sleighing was good, and then the entire neighborhood would turn out to the spelling-school; whole families came on the great two-horse sled, including the old lady and gentleman, all the children, little and big; even the baby and the dogs came. Schools in adjoining districts sent their best spellers to try and carry off the honors. The old log school-house was crowded, and the great box stove, cast at the Mary Ann furnace, and which stood in the center of the room on a box of bricks, was red hot, and kept so during the entire evening. Two good spellers were designated by the teacher to choose sides, and everybody was chosen in one class or the other; then the spelling began, the words being given out by the teacher, first to one class then to the other, beginning at the head. A tally sheet was carefully kept to see who missed the most words. After recess, the 'spelling down' was indulged in; the two classes stood up, and whenever a word was missed the speller sat down, and the one who stood up after all had been spelled down, was the hero or heroine of the hour, and always chosen first in future contests. The result was that the participants usually became correct orthographers.

It may look like there are typos and misspellings, however, the words are spelled as they were in the book. Additional paragraphs added at my discretion. Lisa Allison Albert

Owner/SourceHistory of Licking County, Ohio: Its Past and Present
Linked toElizabeth Bray; Lewis Bray; Ezekial David Haley, Sr.; Martha Jane Haley; Mary E. Haley; Mary Palmer; Angeline Skinner; Asa Allen Skinner; Asa William Skinner, Jr.; Asa William Gray Skinner, Sr.; Catherine Skinner; Catherine Skinner; Ephraim Skinner; Ezekiel Ludwell Skinner; George W. Skinner; J. E. Skinner; James Skinner; John Haley Skinner, Sr.; John Thomas Ludwell Skinner; Joseph S. Skinner; Joseph/Josias Skinner; Lewis B Skinner; Lucinda Skinner; Lucinda Skinner; Margaret Skinner; Mark Skinner; Martha Skinner; Martha Skinner; Parmelia Skinner; Samuel G. Skinner; Sarepta Skinner

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