Wednesday, October 30, 2013

An 18th Century Halloween Treat, from our special guest blogger, Mr. Daniel Defoe (1660-1731)

"Daniel Defoe"  Unknown, in the style of Sir Godfrey Kneller 
Thanks to the miracle of the Internet, I am able to read and share with you fascinating though obscure literary treasures. The Project Gutenberg is an excellent source for reading these pieces in their original form and the one I present to you, today, is a ghost story written by Daniel Defoe (of Robinson Crusoe fame) telling of a ghostly encounter recounted to him by a Mrs. Bargrave in Canterbury, England in the year 1705. Defoe presents the tale as a true event though there is some speculation to the contrary. Judge for yourself after reading my following edited version or, better yet, read the original at:
(Be sure to read the footnotes following my signature.)

Mr. Defoe tells us Mrs. Bargrave had not seen her friend, Mrs. Veal, for over 2 years and attributed her absence with the forgetfulness of a woman busy with her husband's new-found prosperity. Mrs. Bargrave is sitting alone in her home attending to her sewing-work when...
... she hears a knocking at the door. She went to see who was there, and this proved to be Mrs. Veal, her old friend, who was in a riding-habit. At that moment of time the clock struck twelve at noon...
"Henrietta Cavendish Hollles" by Sir Godfrey Kneller
(digital enhancement by K. Wood)
Madam, says Mrs. Bargrave, I am surprised to see you, you have been so long a stranger; but told her, she was glad to see her, and offered to salute her; which Mrs. Veal complied with, till their lips almost touched; and then Mrs. Veal drew her hand across her own eyes, and said, I am not very well; and so waived it. She told Mrs. Bargrave, she was going a journey, and had a great mind to see her first. But, says Mrs. Bargrave, how came you to take a journey alone? I am amazed at it, because I know you have a fond brother. Oh! says Mrs. Veal, I gave my brother the slip, and came away because I had so great a desire to see you before I took my journey. So Mrs. Bargrave went in with her, into another room within the first, and Mrs. Veal sat her down in an elbow-chair, in which Mrs. Bargrave was sitting when she heard Mrs. Veal knock. Then says Mrs. Veal, My dear friend, I am come to renew our old friendship again...
Then Mrs. Veal reminded Mrs. Bargrave of the many friendly offices she did her in former days, and much of the conversation they had with each other in the times of their adversity; what books they read, and what comfort, in particular, they received from Drelincourt's Book of Death, which was the best, she said, on that subject ever written... 
Says Mrs. Veal, Dear Mrs. Bargrave, if the eyes of our faith were as open as the eyes of our body, we should see numbers of angels about us for our guard. The notions we have of heaven now, are nothing like what it is, as Drelincourt says; therefore be comforted under your afflictions...
She would often draw her hand across her own eyes, and say, Mrs. Bargrave, do not you think I am mightily impaired by my fits? No, says Mrs. Bargrave, I think you look as well as ever I knew you... 
And to divert Mrs. Veal, as she thought, took hold of her gown-sleeve several times, and commended it. Mrs. Veal told her, it was a scowered silk (see my note below*), and newly made up...
She said to Mrs. Bargrave, she would have her write a letter to her brother, and tell him, she would have him give rings to such and such; and that there was a purse of gold in her cabinet, and that she would have two broad pieces given to her cousin Watson...
Photo by K. Wood
Then Mrs. Veal asked for Mrs. Bargrave's daughter; she said, she was not at home: But if you have a mind to see her, says Mrs. Bargrave, I'll send for her. Do, says Mrs. Veal. On which she left her, and went to a neighbour's to see for her; and by the time Mrs. Bargrave was returning, Mrs. Veal was got without the door in the street, in the face of the beast-market, on a Saturday, which is market-day, and stood ready to part, as soon as Mrs. Bargrave came to her. She asked her, why she was in such haste. She said she must be going, though perhaps she might not go her journey till Monday; and told Mrs. Bargrave, she hoped she should see her again at her cousin Watson's, before she went whither she was going. Then she said, she would take her leave of her, and walked from Mrs. Bargrave in her view, till a turning interrupted the sight of her, which was three quarters after one in the afternoon...
On Monday morning she sent a person to captain Watson's, to know if Mrs. Veal was there. They wondered at Mrs. Bargrave's inquiry; and sent her word, that she was not there, nor was expected. At this answer Mrs. Bargrave told the maid she had certainly mistook the name, or made some blunder. And though she was ill, she put on her hood, and went herself to captain Watson's though she knew none of the family, to see if Mrs. Veal was there or not. They said, they wondered at her asking, for that she had not been in town; they were sure, if she had, she would have been there. Says Mrs. Bargrave, I am sure she was with me on Saturday almost two hours. They said, it was impossible; for they must have seen her if she had. In comes Capt. Watson, while they were in dispute, and said, that Mrs. Veal was certainly dead, and her escutcheons (see my note below*) were making. This strangely surprised Mrs. Bargrave, when she sent to the person immediately who had the care of them, and found it true. Then she related the whole story to captain Watson's family, and what gown she had on, and how striped; and that Mrs. Veal told her, it was scowered. Then Mrs. Watson cried out, You have seen her indeed, for none knew, but Mrs. Veal and myself, that the gown was scowered. And Mrs. Watson owned, that she described the gown exactly: For, said she, I helped her to make it up. This Mrs. Watson blazed all about the town, and avouched the demonstration of the truth of Mrs. Bargrave's seeing Mrs. Veal's apparition.
Vintage Halloween Postcard

And so, dear Reader, I am sure you join me in saying, "Thank you, Mr. Defoe, for reaching to us beyond the grave to share this story with us!"

Happy Halloween to All!

Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now!



*Scowered silk is raw silk that has been put through a special washing to render it smooth and silky.

*Escutcheons are engravings such as family crests which I gather, in this case, were for Mrs. Veal's gravestone.

**Special (appropriately strange) Footnote regarding the 2 portraits I found to illustrate this post**

I found these portraits with separate Internet searches. Defoe's portrait I found in while searching for "Daniel Defoe" and the portrait of the woman wearing a riding habit (which looks a lot like striped, scowered silk to me) at while searching for "Painting, 1705 Riding Habit." The odd thing is that both paintings are attributed to the same artist, Sir Godfrey Kneller (although the artist of this Defoe portrait hanging in the National Maritime Museum in London is officially unknown, it is listed as being in the style of Kneller.) Anyway...I thought it was a lovely, strange coincidence to share with you.

(Per the Project Gutenberg terms of use: "This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at" )

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Swamp Spirit, a Halloween excerpt from Sea Snow-- the gentle haunting of a 19th century lighthouse

By Usher, John, Jr. -- Photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
So, here we are just a week away from Halloween! I thought it would be fun to share an excerpt from my novel, Sea Snow-- the gentle haunting of a 19th century lighthouse, in which Rose Martin tells us of a ghost story she heard at a village celebration on Halloween Night, 1899. The teller of the tale is her dear friend, Jenny, the local mid-wife who lived in Rawlings, Massachusetts since her escape from slavery in South Carolina many years before.

Jenny raised her gray head and opened her eyes. She lifted her hand, pointing a long finger toward the people facing her. Her black eyes reflected the pumpkin light as she silently turned a complete circle, her pointing finger slowly passing over everyone in turn. I felt an involuntary shiver as her finger pointed my way. Complete silence fell upon us—even the stifled laughter and clearing of throats ceased.
“You,” she began, her voice sounding a note of authority I’d never heard before, “must hear the tale I tell tonight.”
We were all under her control—all gladly relinquishing our own will to fall under the spell of this old woman, this former slave. 
“It happened a long time ago, back when I was a young’n, hiding out in a South Carolina swamp. There came a moon mist— one of those nights when the moon is full and bright and the mist rises thick above the water. Everything glows milky-white and you can’t tell east from west or south from north. It’s on a night of the moon mist that spirits, lost in the swamp, return to look for their way home, or search for whatever it was they couldn’t find when they were living. Something (I never knew what it was,) woke me in the middle of the night and I got up from my cot and looked outside. The camp was floating in moonlight. I pulled a shawl ‘round my shoulders and stepped just outside my door. I knew I shouldn’t go out in the moon mist, but it was so beautiful and strange, all at the same time. I had to get a little closer to it. That’s when I heard a soft shuffling near by. I stepped back into my doorway and peered through the swirling mist. It was Jimmy! I wondered what Jimmy was up to. He was about nineteen, just a few years older than me, and I kind of fancied him.
By Love Krittaya (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
“ ‘Jimmy!’ I whispered.
“He didn’t answer.
“ ‘Jimmy! What are you doin’ out there?’
“I saw his dark shape swim by in the whiteness.
“ ‘Jimmy!’ I whispered as loud as I could.
“He paid me no mind. I looked back inside my hut and then outside at the moon mist. Foolish child that I was, I pulled my shawl tighter ‘round me and walked out.
“ ‘Jimmy!’ I called a little louder. ‘Where’d you go?’
“A rustling in the bushes caught my ear and I walked toward it. Just ahead, I could make out Jimmy’s shape moving before me. I knew for sure it was him, ‘cause he walked with a limp—something he’d got from the overseer who’d broke his ankle the first time he tried to run away.
“ ‘Jimmy!’ I called out loud this time, but my voice was buried in that moist cottony air.
“I followed his lop-sided gait, until I came to the edge of a lagoon. He was nowhere to be seen. I walked around the water’s edge, shivering every time a finger of Spanish moss draped over my shoulder. Here and there, cypress knees tripped me as I wandered about. 
“ ‘Jimmy! Where are you?’ I cried out.
“Then, out of the soup, I heard an owl hooting.
“ ‘Who—who, who, who?’ it asked.
“I couldn’t make out where it was. I turned in a circle and it sounded like it was coming from all sides of me at once. I was getting pretty scared by that time! Then, I heard a soft lapping sound out in the water and saw a greenish light glowing through the mist. The sound and the light grew closer and I stood, planted like a tree, on the bank. I tried to run but my legs wouldn’t move!

"Ramona" by F.L. Harper
“As it grew near, I could see a paddle dipping into the water just behind the light. The light was coming from inside a canoe, though I couldn’t see any kind of lantern. I stood frozen as it came within a few feet of me. Then, I could see what it was that held the paddle. It was a beautiful woman—long, black braids hanging down, a necklace of shells circling her neck, and colored beads sewn onto her tan leather dress. As she came closer, I saw some white feathers stuck here and there in her braids. The light from her canoe cleared a space in the mist and I could see her real plain. There came a sloshing noise and I saw Jimmy, on the other side of the lagoon, wading through the water toward her.
“ ‘Jimmy! What you doin?’ I called to him.
“He didn’t look my way—just kept his eyes on the Indian woman.
“ ‘Jimmy! Get yourself on back here!’ I cried.
“Jimmy was knee-deep in the water, and only a couple feet from the canoe.
“ ‘Jimmy! Don’t you know she’s a swamp spirit? Get away!’ I screamed.
“The woman placed her paddles in the canoe and reached her hand out to him.
“ ‘No!’ I hollered, but my voice sounded puny even to my own ears.
“Jimmy took her hand and climbed into the canoe. The light went out and I couldn’t see anything at all in the moon mist. A flapping sound came from the direction of the canoe and a snow-white owl swooped over me.
By David Syzdek (Snowy Owls (4 of 22)) [CC-BY-SA-2.0
via Wikimedia Commons (digital enhancement by KLWood)
“I started running but I had no idea where I was or where the camp was anymore. Every time I stopped to catch my breath, that owl flew at me, pushing me ahead. Then I stumbled into camp. That bird herded me all the way home! I ran into my hut and jumped into bed, pulling the covers tight over my head.
“Next morning, when folks were up and about, word spread Jimmy was gone. I was scared to tell anybody what I’d seen and I’d have thought maybe I’d dreamed it up except when I went to make up my bed, I saw something glowing white under my blanket. I pulled back the covers and this is what I found.”
Jenny reached into her pocket and withdrew a large, white feather and held it before her. Lantern light danced across its snowy surface and the whole room gasped as one body. 
“We never heard a word from Jimmy again but, later on, folks said they’d seen two white owls flying around the swamp when the mist was thick and the moon was bright.” 

Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now!


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Haunting in Hanover, a true story for a Halloweenish digression

The Apotheosis of Penelope Boothby (1796) 
by Michele Benedetti after Henry Fuseli
As a change of pace from sharing my discoveries of 18th century life and in keeping with the season, I will share another true ghostly encounter experienced by my down-to-earth husband.

Several years ago when Bill lived in Hanover, Massachusetts and worked as a graphic designer, he had a part time office assistant named Mildred who worked off and on for him over a three year period of time. Mildred lived in town, about a quarter mile from Bill's residence, and often expressed her love of her home and the neighborhood. She experienced personal challenges and found great comfort in her home and the kindness of her neighbors.

Mildred was brokenhearted when her husband informed her that the company for which he worked was transferring him to Nashua, New Hampshire, about 70 miles away.  She decided she had no choice but to join him and, with great regret, packed up and moved away.  Their house sold quickly to new owners who pretty much kept to themselves. Occasionally, Mildred returned to Hanover to visit and would stop by Bill's office to see how things were going.
"Welcome to Hanover" By John Phelan (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0
 via Wikimedia Commons

About four years passed when, around 10:00 on a lovely autumn Sunday morning with golden light shining down on the brightly colored leaves, Bill drove from his house to a newsstand for his weekly ritual of purchasing the Sunday newspaper. His route took him by Mildred's former home and, to his surprise, he saw her out in the front yard raking leaves.  She looked up and they exchanged a wave and a smile as he passed by. He couldn't imagine what she was doing there, raking leaves in the current owner's yard, and when he came back by a few minutes later he planned to stop and chat with her.

When Bill reached the house, she was no longer in the yard. He looked in the driveway and only saw the current owner's car. Puzzled, he pulled up in front of the house and walked to the front door. Looking around for any sign of Mildred, he rang the doorbell and a man he had only seen a few times, but who Bill recognized as the homeowner, opened the door.

Bill answered his quizzical expression with his own question, "Hi, I'm a friend of Mildred's and when I drove by a few minutes ago, I noticed her raking leaves out in your front yard. Is she still here? I'd love to see her."
The man wrinkled his forehead, "Mildred?"
"Yes, you know, the woman you bought this house from."
The man shook his head and told Bill Mildred wasn't there. He hadn't seen her since he bought the place.
"I could have sworn it was her I just saw out there," he said, pointing to the front yard. "Is there another woman here who was doing yard work this morning?" 
"No," the man said beginning to look suspiciously at Bill. "No one's here today except me."
With that, he closed the door leaving Bill standing alone in complete bewilderment.

"Hanover Center Cemetary" By John Phelan (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0  
 via Wikimedia Commons
Once he returned home he went about his usual Sunday morning routine but couldn't get the odd incident out of his head. Several hours later he received a phone call from a neighbor who asked if he had heard the news about Mildred.
"No," he said, and before he could tell her about his experience earlier in the day, she announced, "Well, she's dead! Poor dear was killed in a car accident around 10:00 this morning."
"Here?" Bill asked, "In Hanover?"
"Oh no," she replied, "right near her house in Nashua."

So, dear Reader, what do you make of that? Was Mildred making a quick, ghostly stopover to visit her beloved home one more time before she went...wherever she was going? To quote Shakespeare's Hamlet, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
"Hamlet, Horatio, Marcellus and the Ghost," 1796
by Robert Thew after Henry Fuseli

I'd love to hear your own ghost stories. Leave them as a comment, please, so we can all marvel at them.

Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now!


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Yes, We Have No Bananas, Superstitions at Sea

© Krasphoto
18th century sea-going folk had a whole raft (pardon the pun) of superstitions, many of which linger today. Some had logical origins while others defy understanding. So during this month of Halloweenish goings-on I thought it might be fun to offer a list of 13 shipboard superstitions I have garnered during my research:
1-Bananas on board are a portent of disaster.

2-Women on board are bad luck unless...they are naked. Naked women bring good luck (imagine that) so there are many bare-breasted figure heads meant to calm the seas.

3-Meeting a red head (ginger haired person for our British friends) while heading to the ship for a journey is bad luck unless you speak to them before they speak to you as in, "Hey there, Red, be sure you finish that banana before you step foot on this ship!" (Same goes for meeting a flat-footed person on your way to the ship.)

"Girl with Cat" by Paul Hoecker
4-Black cats on board are good luck! (But dogs near fishing tackle are bad.)

5-Killing an albatross brings misfortune.

6-Saying "Good Luck" or being wished "Good Luck" is actually bad luck and can only be reversed by drawing blood as in "Sorry 'bout punching you in the nose but you shouldn't have know...what you said."

7-Having a child born aboard ship is good luck. (Hmmm...see superstition number 2.)

8-Cutting your hair or nails while at sea is bad luck.

9-Having flowers on board ship is bad luck.

10-Wearing gold hoop earrings is good luck for your sea voyage.

"H.M.S. Blonde" by Robert Dampier
11-Stepping aboard with your right foot first is good luck (conversely, left foot boardage is bad.)

12-Throwing stones into the sea will bring its wrath upon your ship.

13-Sailing out on a Friday is very bad luck. 

So, if you meet a flat-footed, red-haired, fully dressed woman wearing flowers in her hair eating bananas who is heading for your ship, take action before she has the chance to say "Good Luck" or be prepared to carry out appropriate counter measures!

Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now!


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Sea Biscuits and Pocket Soup, 18th Century Road Food

"Me, My Wife, and Daughter" by Henry Bunburry
Planning a road trip? Planning to save money by packing your own snacks and picnic food? Ever wonder what your 18th century ancestors carried along those horse-drawn, wind-driven, or foot-pathed journeys? Probably not, but I'm here to tell you anyway and help you count your blessings for those cans of cheese spread and boxes of crackers you tuck into your food chest.

Sea Biscuits (Navy style,) also known as Hard Tack (Army style) were not only eaten by sailors and soldiers but were handy for civilian travelers, as well, especially along the long, lonely 18th century roads of North America. Made of flour and water with no leavening agents, this hard bread was easy to store and transport. As the name implies, it is very hard and was the butt of many jokes as when a soldier exclaimed he found something soft in his Hard Tack. "A worm?" asks another since this was not an uncommon addition when stored for long periods. "Nope," says the first soldier, "a nail!" You could also crumble it up into some liquid like coffee or soup, and Pocket Soup was just the thing to carry along with it.

Pocket Soup, also known as Portable Soup was the precursor to the bullion cubes we use today. Legs of beef or veal were stewed and steamed and scraped and stewed and steam again and again until they were rendered down to hard gelatinous globs sometimes known as veal glue. A small amount of this appetizing stuff was ready to eat with just the addition of some hot water. Of course to make it tastier, you could add any seasonings you wished that you happened to carry along.

Now that I've whetted your appetite, here are a couple recipes I found  for your dining pleasure!

Sea Biscuit/Hard Tack
From (Hard Tack was also a staple of the Civil War diet)

2 cups of flour  
½ to ¾ cup water
Salt (5-6 pinches)
What to Do:
  1. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Make sure you add enough flour so that the dough is no longer sticky, but be careful not to make it too dry. Knead the dough a few times. During the war, hardtack was about half an inch thick, so when you’re rolling the dough, aim for this thickness. It is easiest to roll the dough directly on an ungreased cookie sheet.
  2. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes.
  3. Cut the large square into smaller 3-inch by 3-inch squares. Poke 16 evenly spaced holes in each square using something wider than a toothpick.
  4. Flip, and then return the dough to the oven for another 30 minutes.
  5. Turn the oven off, and allow the hardtack to cool in the oven with the door closed.
  6. Allow to completely cool before eating.

Pocket Soup
From a "receipt" of Hannah Glasse, circa 1747:

"To make Pocket Soup
Take a Leg of Veal, strip off all the Skin and Fat, then take all the muscular or fleshy Parts clean from the Bones. Boil this Flesh in three or four Gallons of Water till it comes to a strong Jelly, and that the Meat is good for nothing. Be sure to keep the Pot close covered, and not do too fast; take a little out in a Spoon now and then, and when you find it is a good rich Jelly, strain it through a Sieve into a clean earthen Pan. When it is cold, take off all the Skim and Fat from the Top, then provide a large deep Stew-pan with Water boiling over a Stove, then take some deep China-cups, or well glazed Earthen Ware, and fill these Cups with the Jelly, which you must take clear from the Settling at the Bottom, and set them in the Stew-pan of Water. Take great Care none of the Water gets into the Cups; if it does, it will spoil it. Keep the Water boiling gently all the time, till the Jelly becomes thick as Glue; then take them out, and let them stand to cool; then turn the Glue out into some new coarse Flannel, which draws out all the  Moisture; turn them in six or eight Hours on fresh Flannel, and so do until they are quite dry. Keep it in a dry warm Place, and in a little time it will be like a dry hard Piece of Glue, which you may carry in your Pocket, without getting any Harm. The best Way is to put it into little Tin boxes. When you use it, boil about a Pint of Water, and pour it on a Piece of Glue about as big as a small Walnut, stirring all the time till it is melted. Season with Salt to your Palate; and if you choose any Herbs, or Spice, boil them in the Water first, then pour the Water over the Glue."

Okay, so now I think I'll go pick up some cans of Vienna Sausage to go with that can of cheese and crackers.

Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now!