Dolls of the Poor and the Wealthy

Dolls have been a common toy for children since the Ancient era of the Egyptians and Greeks, and have been made of as many different materials as cultures that have used them. The types of dolls made also differ based on the social status of the family that owned them. In the Appalachian Mountains many families lived isolated lives, and had little money or time for toys, so many children had corn husk dolls. Corn husk dolls would be made from the corn husks left over from those being used for bedding and those burned to create smoke to keep out mosquitoes, all they would need is a bit of water and a few pieces of string to make something similar to what is seen below. Wealthier families, such as the Vances and Hemphills would have more resources to make their own dolls, being able to buy fine paints for the head and use patterned fabrics for the doll’s clothing. They would also be able to purchase dolls, rather than make them.

Boom, Bang, Pop! Bullet Making in the Appalachian Mountains

In Appalachian folklore the gun is an item that many characters such as David Grier use to great efficiency to hunt game and later hunt intruders on his mountain. While many households in the area did own a gun, it was an expensive item, so most people in the Appalachian area would have only a single gun for the whole family. Below is a picture of the two items most people used to create the bullets for their guns, a single bullet bullet mold and a lead ladle. Small rectangles of lead could be bought at most general stores, and then cut and melted into the lead ladle. The molten lead would then be poured into the bullet mold and be allowed to cool and harden. Households would generally only use their guns for hunting, so few bullets were necessary. To this point households would have need for only single bullet bullet molds, but militarizes and and mercenary companies would have bullet molds capable of molding up to 25 bullets at a time.

Putting the Little Ones to Work

The children of today really do miss out where the children of the past got to enjoy a hard day’s work. Above we have two of the most necessary tools for any child in rural Western North Carolina in the 1800s, the water yoke and chamber pot. Throughout the day, water would be used in the Vance House for cooking and cleaning, thus there would need to be steady supply of it brought up from the spring house. This is where the water yoke comes in. The apparatus would by placed upon a child’s shoulders and fit around their neck. Two full buckets of water would be placed on the hooks so that the child could easily carry both to the Vance house at the same time. The chamber pot would be less of a tool for the children, as it would be a bane upon their existence. Used to hold the excrement of the Vance Family, the enslaved children would take the chamber pot out every morning to be dumped far from the spring house.  

In the Name of Fashion!

In many human cultures throughout history, the style of dress and hair has been important. People have been willing to go to great lengths to attain the ideal look of their time such as the men and women of the Victorian Britain that painted their faces with arsenic to achieve a paler complexion, or the parents of Imperial China who bound their daughter’s feet in hopes of them marrying at or above their station, and let us not forget the charming men of the 18th and 19th centuries who donned hats cured with mercurous nitrate that drove them mad. Above we have a picture of a 1700s to 1800s hair curler used to create the curls around women’s faces which were so popular in that period. To use this hair curler one must heat the end of it in the fire to get it to the appropriate temperature to curl hair. This was dangerous for a variety of reasons. First there is the danger of heating the iron too much and burning your hair off or setting it on fire. Second there is the chance that even at the right temperature one would accidentally touch the curler to their skin causing a painful burn that could easily become infected.

Vance Farm or Vance Plantation?

What is a plantation you might ask? Well, historically in the United States a plantation has been the term used to describe a massive farm owned by a member of the social class known as the planter class. This farm would have at least 1000 acres, be used primarily for cash crops such as cotton or corn, and be worked by over 20 enslaved people. So, is it appropriate to call what the Vance family had a plantation? True, it was much smaller than what we regularly consider a plantation, but at its height there were nearly 900 acres and 18 enslaved people. But ultimately, does it matter? After all, a plantation is still just a specific type of farm. What is most important is how the language we use in referencing the Vance family home today effects the perspectives of visitors. A farm suggests images of a quaint and simple place, where food is grown, and animals are raised for slaughter. Plantation however, almost immediately brings to mind images of enslaved people forced to work hours on end in backbreaking conditions with only sleep being their reprieve at the end of the day. So, it is important to understand how the language we use in referencing the past effects the way people view the Vance family.

What’s Cooking in the Kitchen with Leah?

Here we have three lovely kitchen appliances that Leah, the Vance’s enslaved cook, may have used when preparing meals for the Vance Family. The first is the sausage stuffer, used like a syringe, it is used to squeeze the ground meat and spices into the sausage casing to make a proper sausage. Our second item is a coffee grinder. A fairly simple tool used to grind coffee beans so that they can be used to brew a fine cup of coffee. Lastly we have a device for toasting bread. Once a loaf of bread had gotten a bit of mold on it, which was common in such a damp area, it would usually be sliced and toasted to burn off the bits of mold making it safe to eat. This was a fairly simple practice to not waste any bread. Leah would have likely used these items and more when preparing meals for the Vance family and their customers at their drovers stand in Marshall.

What Have We Here?

While this artifact may at first look like a rod used in Celtic rituals, it is actually a rug beater. While we of course still use rugs today, historically rugs where used to both protect the floor of one’s home and decorate the homes of wealthy landowners.

Rug beaters have been used throughout time in a variety of different cultures to literally beat the dust and dirt out of rugs that accumulates over time.

The Vance Fireplace & Chimney

Over 200 years old, the double sided fireplace in the main cabin is the original fireplace of the Vance family home. The reason for the massive size of the fireplace was more for vanity sake than warmth, as such a fireplace is a testament to the wealth of its owner. The reconstructed main cabin was built around the fireplace.

Of Vances and Libraries

Quite possibly the oldest book we have in our library “Memorial Addresses on the Life and Character of Zebulon Baird Vance” was printed by the Government Printing Office in 1895. The book contains memorial addresses from Fred Dubois of Idaho to Charles E. Hooker of Mississippi. When the Vances lived on Reems Creek, their library numbered over 500 books, which is quite the collection even today. For wealthy Americans at the time owning a large number of books would be a way of displaying both their wealth and supposed intellect to guests. In some cases, large collections of books would go unread by the privileged few that owned them, gathering dust as a classy decoration.

What is the Vance Birthplace you ask?

Well friends, the Vance Birthplace is a North Carolina owned state historic site located on Reems Creek Road on the outskirts of Weaverville, NC. This historic site is a pioneer farmstead which features a two-story log cabin “mansion,” an original 1790s slave cabin, and five outbuildings. Furnished as it would have been in the 1830s, the site explores life in early Buncombe County as seen through the lives of the Vance family and enslaved people.

This blog will be both a place to inform the public of the current goings on at the Vance Birthplace, such as our festivals and events, as well as a place to celebrate Western North Carolinian history.