My So-Called Pilgrim Life

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A chronicle of daily life in the 1627 English village at Plimoth Plantation from both a modern and historical perspective.

Goodbye Blue Monday*

September 19th, 2008 by admin

As a colonial role-player in the English Village, my work involves an esoteric assortment of skills. In the course of the day I kindle fires, assist with building construction, work with rare breed animals, raise heirloom vegetables, weed back-bred 17th century corn, cook the odd pottage, talk in a regional English dialect, etc, etc. In order to best represent the farming community of New Plymouth, village staff engage in the same sort of work and activities carried out by the English in 1627. While cooking, gardening, and house building have been exhibited in front of the public for years, within the last four seasons we’ve been developing another exhibit, that of household laundry.

In 2001, Maureen Richard, our Curator of Reproductions, researched and wrote a paper on washing household linens in 1627 Plymouth which was published in The Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife: Women’s Work in New England 1620-1920. This paper compiled a number of early 17th century sources on washing linen in Early Modern England, and is a handy resource for the interpretive staff wishing to explain to visitors how we think laundry was carried out in New Plymouth. With the acquisition and creation of a reproduction wooden ‘bucking’ tub, ‘washing beetles’, and benches, we have been able to put into practice the written evidence from the 17th century.

Although a heap of work, this exhibit is particularly exciting for staff and visitors alike. Most of the work happens at our village’s recreated spring, a feature that is often overlooked by visitors, but one of the most unique about our site. We are privileged to have access at our museum to a historically accurate water source that we can use with visitors. The linens being washed are napkins, sheets, towels, smocks, and shirts that have been soiled through real use on site. When put out to dry, visitors find not just table linens, but actual clothes. We do our best to create a sense of a personal, cohesive, working community, and what’s more personal than someones underwear?

We hope you’ll be able to join us and help air out our dirty laundry! Like all of our activities, they come and go with the seasons and the weather, so come back soon and help the colonial staff work through another year in 1627.

Justin Squizzero

*Blue Monday refers to the later practice of doing laundry exclusively on Monday, and ‘blueing’, a light rinse of indigo or other blue pigment on white cloth to create an optical illusion making the cloth appear whiter. There is no evidence that either was done in the early 17th century, and the earliest reference to the phrase in the Oxford English Dictionary is in 1801.

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6 Responses to “Goodbye Blue Monday*”

  1. admin says:

    I was fortunate to have been working on one of the days this event was held and it was great! It’s these sort of every day activities that we can represent that brings the lives of the people of New Plymouth a sense of the everyday AND the extraordinary. Every day because almost everyone has to do the laundry. And extraordinary because I’m willing to wager that MOST of our visitors have never seen laundry done in this fashion, what to speak of doing it themselves. Do you wonder why many of us love what we do?


  2. Golf Cart Steve says:

    I agree this is a great adventure for those visitors that know it is happening. Smacking the dirt out of the laundry is something that is not expected.

    Many visitors however never get to know about the laundry routine because then don’t come to the Village via the Eel River path.

  3. tim says:

    Nice Job on the blob. Are you guys going to ask visitor’s to leave Idea’s on the blog of subjects they want you to answer too.

  4. admin says:

    Absolutely, great idea Tim.

  5. KMW says:

    Kelley pointed out to me that one of the recipes that we use this time of year – for fermenty – has a mention of a wash-beetle –
    “To make Furmenty.
    Take wheat and wet it, then beat it in a sack with a wash-beetle, being finely hulled and cleansed from the dust and hulls, boil it over night, and let it soak on a soft fire all night; then next morning take as much as will serve the turn, put it in a pipkin, pan or skillet, and put it a boiling in cream or milk, with mace, salt, whole cinnamon, and saffron, or yolks of eggs, boil it thick and serve it in a clean scowred dish, scrape on sugar, and trim the dish.”
    -May, Robert. The Accomplist Cook. 1660. p. 420

  6. Despite the quotation from the OED there is ample evidence for the use of ‘blue’ in the 17th century. It occurs frequently in household accounts, for example, blue starch was bought for eightpence (at least a day’s wages for a labourer, but the quantity is not given) on 6th June 1612 in the accounts of Lord Howard of Naworth. Indigo was also bought for the family, but may have been for dying.

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