January 1, 2017

The Pesky Colonial "New Year"

William Hogarth, 1755

There's something funny about Colonial dates. You'll see someone in a church record born on the 10th, but on their tombstone, it says the 21. This problem shows up frequently in genealogical research. People reason away the discrepancy:

They just didn't keep good records back then.
The church log must be recording the baptism date not the birth date.
The family but have misremembered the date at burial.
Birthdays weren't a big thing so they probably forgot it.
A lot of people couldn't read back then so their parents must have told it to them wrong.

The list goes on and on and these theories are possible but even if you ignore those pesky discrepancies there's still another thing that's weird about Colonial dates. Sometimes people double dated things. 1752/3. Well which was it?

Julian or Gregorian Calendars?

Much of this confusion is due to how people kept time. During the early 18th Century, most of the British empire was using the Julian calendar, a calendar of 365.25 days first put into use by Julius Cesar in 46 BC. But by the 1700s problems arose with the calendar. Most Roman Catholic nations were using the Gregorian calendar, which caused confusion in international affairs and the math was flawed so there ended up being a lot of odd leap years and religious holidays drifted too far away from their celestial markers.

In an attempt to reconcile the differences, the Parliament decided to change over to the Gregorian calendar in 1751/52. Confusing already? The Gregorian calendar was enacted in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII. It was a calendar of 365.2425 days and reduced the number of leap years while aligning holidays closer with the lunar calendar.

Happy New Year's Day, Again

At this time, Parliament also decided to pick a standard date for the ambiguous term "New Years." Prior to 1752, New Year's Day could fall on March 25th, January 12th, or January 1st depending on what year it was, your location, and what calendar you were using. While most people generally accepted January 1st as the start of the new year, the legal new year was March 25th.

Sometimes double dating was to bridge confusion between the Julian calendar and the Gregorian calendar but other times it was an attempt to bridge the January 1st New Year with the legal new year, especially for dates written between the two. Sometimes both dates were written out full but many times were just written with a slash: 1751/2.  At the time of the calendar transition the designations O.S. (Old Style) and N.S. (New Style) were also sometimes used to eliminate confusion.

That's a Nice 11 Days You've Got There, It would be a Shame If Something Happened to Them 

Part of reconciling the two calendars meant losing days. The members of Parliament chose 11 days in September to eliminate.September 3 to September 14th didn't exist in 1752. If you think people get upset over losing an hour during Daylight Savings time you can only imagine the uproar losing 11 days caused. There was a whole lot of grumbling but little more than complaining happened. The William Hogarth painting (Above) shows a banner that reads "Give us our Eleven Days."
All these changes did cause disagreements at the time and have made it hard for modern day genealogists to keep in order. For instance, George Washington was born on February 11, 1731, before the calendar change. He celebrated his 21st birthday on February 22, 1753, despite having already been 21 for a year. It's clear how the calendar change could easily cause confusion with indentured servitude obligation, rent payments and age based inheritances. George Washington's tomb reflects the date change and lists him as being born in 1732.

Hope Everyone has a great New Year 2017 N.S.!  

December 12, 2016

18th Century Syringe Biscuits

This is a great recipe to break your mom's ancient syringe cookie maker from the cabinet! The taste, and recipe is almost identical to modern Italian Almond Cookies or marzipan and would be a fun, historical recipe to add to the list of Christmas cookies this year.

This recipe is essentially marzipan and is very similar to one used today in Denmark for Marzipan ring cakes or kransekage. Kransekage are a traditional Danish New Year's and wedding treat. They make each ring slightly bigger than the one before and after they are baked, stack them to form a tree and drizzle icing on top. It's a wedding tradition to let the couple remove the top layer of the ring cake together. While no one knows the origin of marzipan almost every European country has a form of it and in many countries it has a romantic implication. In Italian, the word for marzipan itself has romantic connotations. It was even featured in Romeo and Juliet.

18th Century Syringe Biscuits


- 2 Cups pounded, blanched Almonds
- 2 Cups Powdered Sugar
- Egg Whites
- Lemon Peel


Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Pound your blanched almonds until they are smooth, add the powdered sugar and the lemon peel. Mix in egg whites little by little until it forms a smooth, easily malleable paste. Put your paste into your syringe and squeeze one long line on a floured surface and cut it into 3 inch sections. Connect the ends of each section to form loops. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper place biscuits on the baking sheet and bake for 10-11 minutes. Watch closely as these don't brown like most baked goods. Let cool and enjoy!

*For this recipe you need a homemade syringe like the one pictured, a churro maker, or an old-fashioned cookie syringe that lets you choose the amount of dough on release. If none of these are available you can roll the dough "snake" style on a floured surface.

**To speed things up you can use store bought almond flour and powdered sugar. You can make period powdered sugar by pulverizing granulated sugar in a food processor. Period powdered sugar did not have cornstarch it in as most commercial powdered sugars have today.

Colonial marzipan almond paste cookie recipe

December 8, 2016

Tans'ur's Tune: An 18th Century Hymn

I'm starting this off with the disclaimer that I am NOT musical and this particular song did not fit the musical principals of the present day as my limited musical ability understands them. A more musical person could no doubt understand more and make more of the music than I ever could but I was interested in trying to get a little taste of this 18th century song written by William Tans'ur. Hope you enjoy!

This song was collected by John Wesley and reprinted in 1737 in the first Anglican hymnal published in the Colonies, The Collection of Psalms and Hymns.

If anyone is interested in recording this for real, let me know, I would love to post it!

November 9, 2016

Secret Life of Bloggers Blog Party

I haven't written a Secret Life of Bloggers blog post in forever! I've been doing a lot, mostly working and enjoying whats left of fall. This season has been a roller coaster of highs and lows. Hot days, cold days, rainy days, hot days again. 

The Old Third Presbyterian Church, home of the first Vacation Bible School is still in dire need of repair. I've been spending a lot of time with the Chester Historical Preservation Committee in trying to preserve it.

This is my view on the way to work if I come at just the right time when the sun is rising.

Participated in some flax processing and weaving.
 I didn't get to go anywhere to watch the leave change so I did quite a bit of capturing the palette locally.

A sunset I happened to catch while not catching the dog I was trying to catch.

These are the biggest sunflowers I have ever seen! They had to have been a foot in diameter each.

Lovely day of archaeology at Newlin Grist Mill. A huge turnout of volunteers.

I love watching the sparks swirl around the forge on these cold days.

Even decided he was done being a steer and would rather be a chicken.

Forgive my tons of photos of the leaves but they were just so beautiful I couldn't help myself.

Nothing warms my heart more than to see 21st century children adopt the mindset of 18th century ones when presented with the same options. A bunch of kids crammed themselves on the "warm spot" in the cold room.

It's waaaaaaay to early in the season to have to scrape frost off my car!

"Is that a handful of grain in your pocket?"

I'm afraid the last of the fall days are behind us and winter is here.

Hope you enjoyed my photos and I would love to hear what has been keeping you all busy. I will be visiting Williamsburg soon, please send me an email or facebook message if you would like to meet up!

October 23, 2016

Hannah Glasse's Revolutionary War Era Lip Salve Recipe

Mr. Fribble: I’ll endeavour to muster up what little spirits I have, and tell you the whole affair. Hem ! But; first, you must give me leave to make you a present of a small pot of my lip-salve. My servant made it this morning: the ingredients are innocent, I assure you; nothing but the best virgin-wax, conserve of roses, and lily-of-the-valley water. 

Biddy: I thank you, Sir, but my lips are generally red; and when they an’t, I bite ’em. 

Mr. Fribble: I bite my own sometimes, to pout ’em a little; but this will give them a softness, colour, and an agreeable moister. Thus let me make an humble offering at that shrine, where I have already sacrificed my heart. 

Miss in Her Teens; or The Medley of Lovers 1747

Colonial Lip Balm Recipe

The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy was a best seller 100 years after it was first published and was a huge success in the American Colonies before and after the American Revolution. It's the go-to book on English cooking in the 1700s but Hannah Glasse also included this lovely gem of a recipe for how to make lip salve. It's great protection for lips in the chilly months.

The book went through numerous editions, and while most recipes stayed the same, the lip salve recipe changed between printings. The salve recipe given in the 1774 edition is much more resource intensive and intricate, by the 1778 printing the recipe was pared down to a few ingredients. Whether this change was caused by the rising prices in Britain due to the high cost of war in the colonies which raised taxes in England is speculative but not implausible. The 1774 recipe called for pricey ingredients such as sugar, spermaceti, and Balsam of Peru but only 4 years later a simple mixture of beeswax and lard.

I am excited to share this recipe because it is so quick and easy. Also the base recipe is so basic, it can be used for almost any time period by varying the pigments and scents. It's important to note that men and women alike used lip salve, with tint or without tint despite the changing makeup trends for men throughout the century.

18th Century Cosmetic Makeup Recipe

Hannah Glasse's 18th Revolutionary War Era Lip Salve


- 8 ounces Hog's Lard
- 4 Tablespoons Beeswax, shaved to tiny pieces
- Alkanet Root, soaked to release the pigment (or food coloring)
- Lemon Oil

Equipment: For home use (not over a fire, in period basins) I found the following equipment helpful.

- Glass measuring cup
- Empty tin cans with a spout made by using pliers.
- Tins/containers to hold your salve. I find it helps to have an Altoids tin or something similar in case there is any extra salve. 1/2 the recipe makes 125 grams.


Open your tins. Heat the lard and wax in a dish with a spout or measuring cup. If using a microwave, just heat the mixture in 30 second increments until it is fully melted. If using the stove top, you may want to create a double boiler by half submerging your measuring cup in water. Once combined, let cool for a minute or two until the measuring cup is safe to handle. Add scent, and coloring if desired and stir in with a skewer. Pour into your tins, being careful not to spill the hot liquid on yourself. Let cool until the liquid solidifies. Put the lids on the tins and use.

**If you are making more than one variety, divide the mixture into your cans. Add the scents and coloring as you please and pour a small amount into your tins. Let sit until cool enough to handle but still liquid. Scents of the time period include: Rose, jasmine, violet, nutmeg, orange flower water.1

*** You can also substitute ethically sourced palm oil as a vegetarian alternative to the lard as it has the same density.

18th century Colonial Lip Balm Chapped Lips Remedy

1 Buc'hoz, Pierre-Joseph. The Toilet of Flora. London: Printed for W. Nicoll, 1772.