“An Old Fashioned Way of Spinning” : Memories of Harriett Farnham Harris

1903 Harriett Farnham Harris

1903 Harriett Farnham Harris

Family stories are such a treasure, and I am very fortunate to have the loan of a cache of family records, letters, photos and compiled histories from my brother about our father’s side of the family.

Among the stories I’ve come across from these documents is a narrative given by our great-great grandmother, Harriet Farnham Harris (1832-1915), about life in Western New York during the early 1800s. Harriet Farnham Harris was the wife of Wilna C. Harris.

A visit to a farm house in olden times, especially at Christmas time, was something to be enjoyed. First of all, perhaps we were taken over rough roads in a large sleigh with plenty of buffalo robes and a large heated stone beneath our feet.
Upon arriving at the house someone was there to let down the bars that we might drive in close up to a large porch where we were met by all the family.


Painting by Thomas Birch, circa 1834

We were all very cold and hungry. The odor from within was delicious. Soon we had a glimpse of a large tin bake oven in front of a large fireplace. In this oven was a dear little pig roasting so brown. Upon a crane hung large kettles with other goodies. The pumpkin pies had been baked earlier in the day. Great loaves of rye and Indian bread were all on the deal table, which was a long table the whole length of the room.
Thanksgiving-cooking-around-the-hearthIn the morning the boys had brought in a back log and placed it on the two large andirons, sometimes called firedogs. Then, after the fire was well started, a fore log was put on which would last for all the day.
After the noon meal, the girls would spin wool. The machine with which they spun the wool was a large spinning wheel. It was quite a large block of wood standing on three legs. A large wheel was fastened between two pieces of wood letting it move freely.
From the right hand axis of the wheel was attached a treadle by which the machine was worked. A large shuttle about six inches wide was projected perpendicular from the left hand axis of the wheel.

Archival photo courtesy Windsor Public Library

Archival photo courtesy Windsor Public Library

The girls carefully caught the wool to the shuttle, as they put their foot on the treadle. The treadle started the wheel in motion which made a buzzing noise until the spindle was full of yarn. Before the wool was all gone, another roll was put on until it was long enough to contain hundreds of spools. These rolls of wool that were put on the shuttle came from the carding mills where lumps were taken out by rolling.
This process seemed very easy, but the rolls had to be handled with the greatest of care or they would come apart.
In the evening they would all sit around the fireplace eating apples and telling riddles. Then, all who could, sang. Last of all the town fiddler appeared. The room was cleared for dancing and at a late hour the guests were given tallow candles and shown the way to their bedrooms.

Country fiddler

Country fiddler

As you walked in the room, the first thing to meet your eye was a high post bedstead with curtains hanging all around it from the ceiling to the floor. A stool was provided so as to get into this thick feather bed. In one corner of the room stood a chair and opposite the chair was a dressing table. The adornments on the walls were samplers, these being pieces of linen with animals and flowers worked into the fabric with colored thread.

This reminiscence was related to Harriet’s granddaughter (my paternal great aunt), Edna May Garrison and recorded in Harris Genealogy: A line of direct descendants from James Harris of Boston, Massachusetts, to the present generation in 1975 by Robert Garrison Elliott.

Wilna C. and Harriett Harris, 1912

Wilna C. and Harriett Harris, 1912

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