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.