May 27

Plenty of Chores Around the Hamilton House

Posted on May 27, 2020 at 9:38 PM by Semra Iljazi

In November of 1856, Henry and Margaret Hamilton purchased what we now know as the Hamilton House Museum and its surrounding 96 acres of land. This made for a great deal of housework for the family.

A Clever Cat Clique

One could easily say that hand-milking their cows was a top priority for the Hamiltons. Henry and his son William were infamous for the number of cats that lingered around their barn. Responsible as the guards against rats and mice, the cats were rewarded with fresh warm milk. As gathered from family lore, one of the cats would sit on its hind legs and beg for a taste with an open mouth. Henry couldn’t resist, and gladly shared a bit of his cow’s milk. The Hamiltons were responsible for the first regular milk service in Paterson – luckily there was enough for the family, deliveries, and cats.

Along with the felines, the Hamiltons cared for a plethora of more domesticated animals that included chickens, turkeys, horses, cows, and pigs.

A Hefty Harvest

Although dairy production was the cornerstone of the Hamilton family’s farm, they also planted crops and cultivated a substantial garden. The family was especially busy during planting, growing, and harvesting seasons. Sisters Susan, Bridget, and Margaret later canned fruits and vegetables and also made jelly, pickled vegetables, and produced their own vinegar. 

In the Fields: Potatoes, pumpkins, corn, melons, and cantaloupes

In the Garden: Strawberries, asparagus, green beans, lima beans, green onions, squash, cucumbers, blackberries, raspberries, and rhubarb

In the Orchard: Apples, pears, sour cherries, and concord grapes 

In the Flower Garden: Christmas roses, English magnolia, dwarf dogwood, hollyhocks, mountain laurel, rhododendron, white and purple lilacs, wisteria, english ivy, lemon daylily, lavender, lilium rubrum, lilies of the valley, peonies, and tuber roses 

Sticking to the Schedule

Sisters Susan, Bridget, and Margaret adhered to a structured schedule to ensure all of their chores were completed in a timely and efficient manner.

Monday: Mondays were dedicated to hand- washing clothes. Before the kitchen pump was installed indoors in 1892, the sisters would fetch water in buckets from the brook that ran nearby. They would bring the water up to heat over an outdoor fire and scrub the clothing over washboards. The clothes would then be hung over a clothesline or draped over bushes to dry.

Tuesday: On Tuesdays, the sisters ironed the clothing that was washed the day before. 19th-century irons were made of solid metal and quite heavy, and had to be heated on top of the kitchen stove. Beeswax was slicked on to hot iron to keep it from sticking to the stove top. In order to tell when the iron was hot and ready for use, one would spit on it to see if the spit sizzled. Efficiently, the sisters had more than one iron heating up at a time. As one cooled, it was swapped for another hot iron.

Wednesday: Wednesdays were reserved for baking, usually bread but also pies, cakes, and cookies. 

Thursday: On Thursdays, the sisters sewed new clothing, quilts, and other items, as well as anything that needed a few stitches of repair. Knitting and crocheting has become a popular hobby during the time, which resulted in quite a few new textiles for the family. 

Friday: After a long week, the home needed to be cleaned on Fridays. Susan, Bridget, and Margaret would take all of the rugs from inside the house and hang them over ropes outside. They’d then use rug beaters to repeatedly smack them against the rugs, resulting in large dust clouds in the air rather than in the rugs. Simultaneously, the indoor floors were swept and scrubbed clean before the rugs would be returned. 

Saturday: Saturdays were dedicated to playing catch-up, completing extra household chores and finishing what they couldn’t during the rest of the week. They’d also get a head-start on Sunday’s dinner, which often included company, and grooming the family before church the next day. 

Sunday: The Hamiltons would attend church on Sundays, if possible as the local house of worship was several miles away. Most families would have to walk or, if they were lucky, ride in a buggy. Rain and snow often kept many families from yielding perfect attendance.

How does your chore schedule differ from the Hamilton family’s catalog of housework?