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
Chapter 8: Nuances of the Mistress
Just as one can't help wonder about people who were born, or the people who died, in the Mistress, you have to have a curiosity about what life might have been like for those people.
Specific things have been found in the Mistress provoking the interest. Even some of the structural features of the Mistress do the same thing. One intriguing article found between some walls on the Mistress's second floor is an old birch broom.
The broom is not your ordinary corn broom or an old straw broom. From the broom's appearance, according to people who know their brooms, the date seems to be around the first part of the eighteenth century. Maybe one of the Bowers used the broom for sweeping the Mistress's floors. Maybe the broom was used exclusively as a hearth broom.
Whichever the case might be, the broom was made from a birch tree about five inches in diameter and cut to a length of five feet. The handle was whittled down to an appropriate size while the sweeping end of the broom was made into dozens and dozens of slivers an eighth of an inch wide and as thick as a heavy sheet of paper. It would definitely scour away any sticky substance on the floor rather than just maneuver loose dirt to a new location.
Other items of equal interest include two candle holders and a candle mold. Both holders allow someone to adjust the height of a candle by about two inches, but more importantly, the two inches will keep the candle from tipping over and starting an unwanted fire. The better of the two holders is made of brass and has a base that looks like a saucer for catching drippings. The tin candle holder would be much less efficient because its base allowed drippings to ooze everywhere. The candle mold is also made of tin, allowing six candles to be made nine inches long and three quarters of an inch across.
Candle making was a major day long event. The fall project could produce the entire year's supply of household candles if everything went well. First a large kettle was half filled with water and hung from the crane in the fireplace. When the water came to a boil, tallow was added. After the tallow melted and came to a boil, the nearly full kettle was skimmed, re-skimmed, and maybe even skimmed a third time. When the tallow was ready, the candle wicks, which had earlier been hung over some rods were dipped into the tallow. They were then taken to a cooling room where they slowly cooled so that they wouldn't crack. After they had cooled, they were again dipped. The process was repeated numerous times until the candles were the appropriate size.
With everything going well, a couple hundred candles could be made in a day. If candles were being made with the mold, a wick had to be fished from one end of the mold to the other. At the mold's open end, the wick was attached to a wire or nail that had been paced across the open top. Tallow was then poured into the mold.
Besides tallow, other substances could be used. Bees wax was one of those substances. Bees were kept as much for their honey as for their wax. This was certainly true of the Mistress's beekeepers. If wax was to be used, it was simply pressed around a wick and then shaped to the appropriate size and rolled by hand.
While candles were important to the Mistress's inhabitants, their convenience has to be looked at. If a candle was going to be lit, it had be done with a burning coal by the light of a fire in one of the Mistress's rooms. There wouldn't be any need for a candle in a room where a fire was burning. More light was given off by the fire than any candle could give off. Maybe it all had to do with sitting around the kitchen fire and the need to get up a dark set of stairs to turn in for the night. Hitting the outhouse before turning in might be another need for a candle.
Once the candle had been snuffed out, it wasn't going to be lit again that night, unless a fire was burning in the room's fireplace. Matches didn't make the scene until 1827.