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The Henry County Pioneer Woman

Early 1800s
History of Henry County, IN 1884
Published by Inter-State Publishing Company -1884

      Besides cooking, the women had many other arduous duties to perform, one of the chief of which was spinning. The "big wheel" wheel was used for spinning yarn and the "little wheel" for spinning flax. These stringed instruments furnished the principle music of the family, and were operated by our mothers and grandmothers with great skill, attained without pecuniary expense and with far less practice than is necessary for girls of our period to acquire a skillful use of their costly and elegant instruments. But those wheels indispensable a few years ago, are now superseded by the mighty factories which overspread the country, furnishing cloth of all kinds at an expense ten times less than would be incurred now by the old system.
     The loom was not less necessary than the wheel, though they were not needed in so great numbers; not every house had a loom, one loom had the capacity for the needs of several families. Settlers, having succeeded in spite of the wolves in raising sheep, commenced the manufacture of woolen cloth; wool was carded and made and made into rolls by hand-cards, and the rolls were spun on the "big wheels." We still occasionally find in the houses of old settlers a wheel of this kind, sometimes used for spinning and twisting stocking yarn. They are turned with the hand, and with such velocity that it will run itself while the nimble worker, by her backward step, draws out and twists her thread nearly the whole length of the cabin. A common article woven on the loom was linsey, or linsey-woolsey, the chain being linen and the filling being woolen. This cloth was used for dresses for the women and girls. Nearly all the clothes worn by the men were also homemade, rarely was a farmer or his son seen in a coat made of any other. If, occasionally, a young man appeared in a suit of "boughten" clothes he was suspected of having gotten it for a particular occasion, which occurs in the life of every young man.


     To witness the various processes of cooking in the early days would likely surprise and amuse those who have grown up since cooking stoves and ranges came into use. Kettles were hung over the large fire, suspended with pothooks, iron or wooden, on the crane, or on poles, one end of which would rest upon a chair. The long handled frying pan was used for cooking meat. It was either held over the blaze by hand or set down upon coals drawn out upon the hearth. This pan was also used for baking pancakes, also called "flap-jacks," "johny-cakes," "batter-cakes," etc. A better article for this however, was the cast-iron "spider" or Dutch skillet. The best thing for baking bread in those days, and possibly even yet in these latter days, was the flat bottom bake kettle, of greater depth, with closely fitting cast-iron cover, and commonly known as the "Dutch oven." With coals over and under it, bread and biscuit would quickly and nicely bake. Turkey and spareribs were sometimes roasted before the fire, suspended by a string, a dish being placed underneath to catch the drippings,
     Hominy and samp were very much used. The hominy, however, was generally hulled corn- boiled corn from which the hull or bran, had been taken by hot lye; hence sometimes called "lye hominy." True hominy and samp were made of pounded corn. A popular method of making this, as well as real meal for bread, was to cut out or burn a large hole in the top of a huge stump, in the shape of a mortar, and pounding the corn in this by a maul or beetle suspended on the end of a swing pole , like a well sweep. This and the well sweep consisted of a pole 20 to 30 feet long fixed in an upright fork so that it could be worked "teeter" fashion. It was a rapid and simple way of drawing water. When the samp was sufficiently pounded it was taken out, the bran floated off, and the delicious grain boiled like rice.
     The chief articles of diet in early days were corn bread, hominy or samp, venison, pork, honey, beans, pumpkin (dried pumpkin for more than half a year), turkey, prairie chicken, squirrel and some other game, with a few additional vegetables a portion of the year. Wheat bread, tea, coffee and fruit were luxuries not to be indulged in except on special occasions, as when visitors were present.

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