Stratton House Inn :: Little Home Histories, Part 48 -- Some History of Wool, Flax and Nettles in Leatherwood Valley (from Cyrus Hall's History of Leatherwood Valley).
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by Dearing, Debona Webster.

See previous entry: Little Home Histories, Part 47 -- Dr. Carolus Judkins.

Ann, the oldest child of John and Hannah Plummer Webster, was born the 6th of Third Month 1779. She was one of the last members of the family that was married, but of that event I at present have no date. She was married to Jesse Chalfant about the year 1823 or 1824. He was a widower and came from Wilmington, Delaware.

Jesse Chalfant was by trade a wheelwright -- or one whose occupation was making and repairing spinning wheels, and reels for winding yarn, and other spinning and weaving machinery, which were then in use in almost every family. In this branch of business Jesse Chalfant was a skilled mechanic. There being much of that class of work to be done in that day, the services of such a man was needed in every neighborhood. At this period when both the food and clothing had to be produced and prepared within the families of the people; the Scriptural problems -- "What shall we eat?" and "What shall we drink?" -- were closely followed and almost inseparably connected with the no less important question -- "How shall we be clothed?" Among the inhabitants of this period a large portion of their clothing was wholly or in part prepared by the members of their own families. Thus the spinning wheel and reel, and, in a large number of families, the loom, were household necessities.

Woolen goods of home manufacture then formed most of the winter clothing of the country people; most farmers kept a few sheep for that purpose.

The wool, after being prepared, was carded at the country carding machine, which was then an indispensable institution in every section of country -- as much as the mill for grinding grain. A portion of the wool was sometimes carded at home with hand cards which was a slow and tedious process. The wool after being carded or made into rools, was usually spun by members of the farmers' families. After being spun it was woven into cloth of several kinds as desired by country weavers, of which there were generally several in every neighborhood. This branch of business was generally followed by women, but there were men also who followed the business of weaving.

There were factories in almost every section of country that did spinning, weaving, dyeing and finishing of cloth; but for want of more improved and efficient machinery their work was tedious and comparatively expensive and they received only a limited patronage.

The culture of flax for textile purposes, was also carried on very extensively throughout the country during the early settlements and even up to near the middle of the present century (1850). Flax, being used in a multitude of ways, filled a place as much if not more important than any other material in providing clothing for the common people. It was spun and woven into linen, which formed one of the staple articles of summer clothing. It also was used to some extent for the chain for linsey and other woolen goods. The principal part of the sewing thread then in use was spun directly from flax. The culture and manufacture of flax was a thing that took considerable time; it was a tedious and, in some respects, laborious business.

After the flax was raised and the seed had been taken off, it was spread thinly upon the grass to be "rotted" as it was termed, which caused the woody part of the straw to be easily broken and separated from the fiber. This took a period of from one to two months. This was done in the fall or early spring as the hot sun would injure the fiber. Then came breaking and dressing, or cleaning the fiber of the coarse or woody portion of the straw.

The old flaxbrake is now a relic of the past; it was a clumsy implement and was made with five horizontal bars, two above and three beneath, the under set being stationary set in heads at each end and mounted upon legs of convenient height. The upper set were set in heads in like manner, the head at the back end being in the form of a roller, leaving the front end free to be moved up and down the two upper bars working between and nearly touching the three under bars. The operator took the flax in bunches as large as he could conveniently handle in one hand and holding it under the brake moving it backward and forward between the bars. At the same time, with his other hand, he raised the upper section of the brake and brought it down with a heavy stroke, shaking and knocking it from time to time as the work progressed.

After being thus broken, the flax was then dressed or "swingled" as it was termed. This was usually done by another man, as two persons could work together to the best advantage. This was done by taking each hand of flex as it came from the brake and holding it across the end of an upright board (the end of which had been dressed to a smooth blunt edge), and striking it with a large wooden kirtle, with both an upward and downward stroke until it was cleaned or sufficiently freed from the shives or small pieces of the broken straw. In this way two men could usually break and dress from twenty to twenty-five pounds per day. This work was usually done during the cold and dry days of winter when the farmers were most at leisure. The flax, if not sufficiently dry, was dried over or around an open fire. Many of the older citizens recall the old Family Almanac were at the head of each calendar month was a picture illustrating the principal kind of work set apart for that month -- or properly belonging to that particular season. For the month of January, two men were always represented breaking and dressing flax, with a boy drying it over a fire. For the month of December, two men were always represented in the barn thrashing grain with flails.

Concerning Nettles and Their Uses Among Some of the Pioneer Settlers

The nettle is a perennial plant that formerly grew in great abundance over all or most of the northern United States. It is partially covered with a minute sharp hairs or prickles, which are in a measure poisonous. Upon coming in contact with the skin, they cause a painful, itching, disagreeable sensation. At the time of the first settlement along the Leatherwood Valley, the nettles grew in patches -- some larger ones covering acres of ground, some smaller confined to a space of rods, or even a yard or less. Nettles would dominate and smother other plants. Wherever they grew, they seemed to be in entire possession of the soil to the extinction of all other plants. In a rich moist soil such as shaded forest with sparse undergrowth of bushes and small timber, they would frequently grow to the height of three or four feet and occupying acres. Nettles, of course, are propagated from seed more or less, but the plants increase and spread from suckers -- forming a thick network of roots near the surfaces of the soil. In the early stages of its growth, horses will eat nettles with a relish -- nearly if not equal to red clover. Upon once being nipped off, it does not so readily start again as is the case with some other plants, especially the grasses.

I was informed a number of years ago that Jane Shannon, widow of George Shannon -- one of the three first settlers in Warren Township, who soon after his coming there was frozen to death while hunting -- that Jane Shannon, being left at the head of a family in straightened circumstances, manufactured a long web of linen from the textile fiber of nettles. At the time, they lived in Belmont county, a few miles northeast of Barnesville. She had care of an interesting family and possessed a genius and an energy peculiar to those whole-souled pioneer women who figured in the early unwritten history of southeastern Ohio. With her inventive powers -- which were equal to the emergency of the times -- she had a quantity of those nettles mowed or cut with a cradle and left exposed to a process of "maceration," as was the custom in rotting flax and hemp. After this process, the stem or woody part which forms the interior of the stalk, becomes brittle and the fiber or lint becomes somewhat loosened from exposure to alternate sunshine and rain. When this process of rotting is done, it is then broken and "swingled" in the same way that flax is. The stalks are larger and the shives are separated with less labor. The fiber is finer, softer, stronger, more pliant and silklike than flax; and is capable of being drawn into a finer thread by the spinning wheel. The little spinning wheel was used to spin all kinds of linen or thread, whether made of flax, hemp, or nettles. Thus, when the fiber of those nettles was prepared to be drawn into thread, this diligent woman -- with the labor of her own hands, assisted more or less by the members of her family as the case might be -- spun and wove a long web of linen, which was ample for all domestic purposes in the family.

Several members of the family of Jane Shannon that were thus raised under these adverse circumstances and amid the privations to which the rising generation of that period were subjected, became prominent citizens and held responsible positions in society.

The youngest son, Wilson Shannon, the first white child born in Warren Township, who in his youth wore clothing such as heretofore described, later became governor of Ohio and an ambassador to foreign courts, thus gaining a state and national reputation.

Source: Debona Webster Dearing, 2699 Indianola Ave., Columbus, Ohio. Ann (Webster) Chalfant was a Great, Great Aunt of the contributor.

See next entry: Little Home Histories, Part 49 -- Historical Reminiscences of the Joseph Edgerton Family.

For the table of contents and first entry in this series, please see: Little Home Histories, Part 01 -- Table of Contents and Introduction.


This entry is adapted from Little Home Histories in Our Early Homes, Belmont County, Ohio, which was published in 1942. Its publication was coordinated by Robert D. and Beulah Patten McDonald. This entry has been reedited for inclusion in the Pierian Press Fulltext eBooks database, and is included on the Stratton House Inn Website by special permission. This entry is licensed for use ONLY on this Website. It may be used for educational purposes and personal pleasure under fair-use provisions via this Website. Please note that the Stratton House Inn iteration of this entry does NOT include the subject headings assigned each chapter for use in the Fulltext eBooks database.

DATABASE: Fulltext eBooks: Copyright (c) 2002 The Pierian Press, Inc. All Rights Reserved
ENTRY NUMBER: EBK30013748

 

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