Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

© 2006-2019 All rights reserved

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Thursday, February 06, 2020

Colonial Ancestors

My research into family genealogy the last couple of years has made me aware that it's a miracle that I exist at all. For instance, I wouldn’t be here if several ancestors hadn't survived the Indian Massacre of 1622 at Jamestown. (Actually, on my Smith Side, I have one ancestor—William Hancock—who didn't survive it. Fortunately, his sons were back in England at the time, and I descend from one of them. One of Hancock's descendants lived less than a half mile from where I now live.)

On my Nace side, I have several ancestors who came from England to colonial Virginia. Jonathan Giles, my 10th great-grandfather who left Isle of Wight, England, and arrived in Jamestown in 1619 on the Trial, was one who survived the massacre. Another 10th great-grandfather who survived was John Haynie, who left Devonshire and arrived in Jamestown in 1621 on the Margrett and John.  

Arriving later and thus missing the massacre, was another 10th great-grandfather, Anthony Harrison, who came from Cambridge England to New Kent, Virginia in 1653 when he was 53. Major Lawrence Smith, my 9th great grandfather from Lancashire, England, was imported into Virginia in 1652 by Col. Augustine Warner.

My 8th great-grandfather, John Battaile, arrived from Essex England in 1692 and lived in Essex County, Virginia, near another 8th-great-grandfather, Andrew Harrison, Sr. And there were many other relatives who arrived in colonial Virginia during the 17th century. The more I learned about my genealogy, the more curious I became about what their lives in colonial Virginia must have been like.  

One book I read was Everyday Life in Early America, by David Freeman Hawke. Another was the Kindle version of a reprint of Home Life in Colonial Days, written over a century ago by Alice Morse Earle, which—alas!—didn't have the illustrations that her original had.


I also did a lot of Googling. Two resources of the many resources  I read online were Colonial Williamsburg's "Surviving the 17th Century" (and some of the links on that page) and the Virginia Humanities' "Women in Colonial Virginia."

From a painting for Colonial National Historical Park by Sidney King. A Domestic Scene at Jamestown About 1625This scene is from The Project Gutenberg eBook, Domestic Life in Virginia in the Seventeenth Century, by Annie Lash Jester.

My conclusion: Life was hard in 17th century Virginia—particularly for women. I doubt I could have survived day to day. Women worked all day long—meal preparation meant picking vegetables, skinning and cutting up meat, cooking on the hearth—which required a lot of stooping, keeping the fire going, using heavy iron pots and utensils, and more. There were few plates in those early days—no china or pottery, although some families might have a few pewter plates which were used primarily for serving. 

There wasn't a dining table—a board was placed on two saw-horses. Some families were fortunate to have a few chairs, but many did not, so diners sat on chests, benches, or whatever could be pulled up to the board. Children often stood to eat. Most colonists ate—with knives, wooden spoons, and fingers—from wooden trenchers, squares of wood hollowed out in the center to form a sort of bowl. Trenchers were usually shared, so two people often ate from the same one. There were plenty of napkins to go round, however, since fingers often neeed wiping (and women wove the fabric that made the napkins). 

Why didn't the colonists have forks
By the beginning of the 18th century, knives imported to the American colonies had the new blunt tips. Because Americans had very few forks and no longer had sharp-tipped knives to spear food, they had to use spoons in instead. They’d use the spoon in the left hand to steady the food as they cut it with the knife in the right. They’d then switch the spoon to the opposite hand in order to scoop it up to eat. 
These folks drank their beverages from tankards, wooden cups, or leather cups. Water wasn't the preferred beverage—it was sometimes dirty or foul-tasting, so beer, ale, and cider were preferred, even for children.

Besides kitchen duties, women also did the washing (see illustration below), spun, wove, knitted, and sewed; made soap and candles; tended a garden; preserved food by pickling, salting, drying or making preserves; cleaned (scouring the floor—if it wasn't a dirt floor—involved sand) and tended chickens and cows. They also gave birth several times and raised children.

Wash-day in the Seventeenth Century The women soak the clothes in hot water dipped from the nearby kettle heated over the open fire, beat out the grime with paddles, rinse the articles in the shallow stream and hang them out to dry. (Courtesy of the artist, Sydney R. Jones from Old English Household Life by Jekyll and Jones, published by B. T. Batsford, Ltd., London. Photo by Thomas L. Williams)

If they needed to travel—perhaps to help a friend give birth or to attend a funeral, they either walked or went by dug-out canoe if they lived near water as many early Virginians did. Horses were a rarity in the early 1600s because they took up so much space to easily transport by ship (a 1000-pound horse, plus 500 lbs. of hay, 300 or so pounds of oats—you get the picture). Plus, all the manure that had to be mucked out and carried above deck. . . . Horses that came to Jamestown in 1610 didn't survive the starving time, and it took a while for more horses to be brought in and breeding to get underway. Some fortunate families might have oxen and a cart in the early years, though. When horses did eventually come to the colonies, "no one walked save a vagabond or a fool." By the18th century, roads had improved and carriage travel was popular.  

I'm not sure I could have coped with 17th century women's clothing. The only article of underwear that women had was the shift—which looked sort of like a long nightshirt. There were no other undergarments unless you include stays. (Underpants—or drawers, which were two pieces tied together at the waist— wouldn't come along until the early19th century.  Stays were worn between the shift and the outer gown. Made of linen and whalebone (or wood), stays laced up and gave women stiff, upright posture. Children, boys as well as girl, also wore stays to improve their posture. I can't imagine that stays were comfortable.

Staying warm in winter was a challenge. Early houses were drafty, and one fireplace wasn't enough to warm the whole room where people ate, slept, and lived. Bed-curtains helped, as did feather beds (sometimes another feather bed was used as a cover), animal skins, and several people sharing a bed.

I appreciate the hardships my ancestors endured to settle colonial Virginia. I wouldn't be here without these hard-working and resilient forebears.

Monday, December 23, 2019

SOTK Update

A Special State of the Kitties Update
by Tanner
(Chief House Cat)

A lot has happened since I made my August report. Not long after I reported, Chloe went missing for nine days, and  Mommy was so glad to see Chloe when she came home. But because Chloe was limping, Mommy realized something was bad wrong and took her to the cat doctor where she had to have FHO surgery because her femur was dislocated and had a fracture. They shaved off a lot of Chloe's hair, so she had to lay in the sun to keep warm while she recuperated.

Soon she moved into a box where no one would bother her. 

Chloe has gotten a lot better and is walking with a only a slight limp now, but she has had to give up her cat-work job which makes more work for Jim-Bob and Alfreda and me. Mommy doesn't want Chloe to go outside any more, at least not for a while. Chloe is not too happy about this.

Chloe slept on this big cushion while she healed up.
The real big news is that our family has also got a lot bigger since a bunch of kitties came to live with us. A wild mama cat had four kittens in an old tobacco barn down the road last summer. 

The people who owned the place where the kitties were living had a big dog who didn't like cats, so they couldn't keep them. The mama cat was gone most of the time to hunt, so the little kitties were pretty much on their  own. Daddy started stopping by to feed them twice a day when he checked the farm down the road, and he got them so they were sort of tame.

But where the little kitties lived was near where coyotes roamed and where Mommy and Daddy had once seen a big bear, so it wasn't safe for them to stay there. Before long, Daddy started feeding them in the cat-crate. Back in September when all four went in at once, he closed the door and brought them home. So that's how we got Grover, Rufus, Orville, and Claudine.

Here is how you can tell them apart. Claudine looks like she was made from scrap cat parts. Maybe that's why she is such a scrapper.

This is a better picture of her:

Orville is the smallest cat but he has big ears. He look like an elf.

Rufus is the biggest. He was real shy when he came here but he got over it. He has a little orange spot beside his nose that makes him look funny.

Grover has two spots near his nose. They look lke he should have wiped his nose better. He is probably the smartest and most adventurous of the group. He gets into stuff.

They stayed downstairs for a while until they got used to things, but now they have made themselves right at home. And they have grown real big. The regular cats had a cat-meeting and the kitties were voted in by me, Alfreda, Otis, Charlotte, and my kitty Arlo (who only voted yes because I told him to).  Chloe abstained from voting, and Jim-Bob was the only one who voted no because he doesn't have much use for cats who don't work.

The four kitties are pretty much part of the cat herd now. Otis tried to teach them string theory, so now they play with his string.

The kitties get into a lot of things and cause trouble, but they are kind of cute when they sleep.

Orville has real good tiger stripes. They are not as pretty as my stripes but they are brighter.

Orville likes to sleep with Grover.

Otis and Charlotte have been teaching them how to use the computer to watch YouTube videos.

Otis has taught Claudine how much fun it is to get on the top of the cat-tower.

I think Otis and Charlotte might be teaching the kitties bad things. But since I have to work, I don't really know what is going on inside the house during the day.

I used to be against taking in homeless kitties, but I have changed my mind. Some of you might remember how I didn't want Arlo to live here when he was a homeless kitty, but I got over that. When Alfreda joined us, I didn't object too much. After all, she was a striped kitty like me. I was used to taking in stray kitties when Otis and Charlotte came; but I was glad that Alfreda raised them instead of me having to do it. I know now that all kitties—no matter where they came from—deserve a good home.

Anyhow, that's the latest news.
—Tanner (Chief House Cat)


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Thursday, August 22, 2019

SOTK 2019

State of the Kitties Report: Summer 2019
by Tanner
(chief house cat)

Some things have changed since the last time I posted. Camilla, the 20-year-old cat matriarch, died recently and was buried near Dylan and Olivia. The kitties, Otis and Charlotte , are a year old and are all grown up and have their own interests. And I have a new job. 

The kitty Otis has always been scientifically inclined.  For a while, he studied string theory, as you can see in this video that Mommy posted on Facebook. 

You can also see it on Facebook:

But Otis has given that up and now studies geology. Here he is with part of his rock collection. He can throw the little white rocks, but he can't move the big rock no matter how hard he bats it.

The kitty Charlotte isn't as experimental as Otis so she likes to think inside the box. Sometimes she thinks  inside several boxes.

But getting back to my new job: For a couple of years I have done night rat patrol in the garage. Well, Alfreda helped, but I did most of the work and I was the boss. I got so good at it that rats stopped coming into the garage and stayed outside. That's when Mommy offered me and Alfreda jobs as perimeter patrol cats, and we accepted. We have to walk around the house several times a day and check under bushes. It is a big job because there are a lot of bushes. Here I am contemplating a spot of sunlight and looking at suspicious leaves. 

We have to work for Jim-Bob, who has been in charge of outdoor cat-work since George died a couple of years ago, and he can be a demanding boss. But he often takes breaks after he's gotten us to do cat-work.

He makes us attend cat-meetings. Here is a picture of one of the meetings. Jim-Bob is showing us where we will work that day, or we are more or less looking in the same direction. Even if we don't share his vision, we pretend we do.

Chloe, who is Jim-Bob's sister, also works for him, but she mainly does her own thing. Sometimes she stays out all night.

Anyhow, we mostly stay outside all day. When Alfreda and I come in for the night, we are exhausted.

I gave my rat patrol job to my kitty Arlo who has given up being an artist and decided to do meaningful work, so he stays in the garage at night now. I don't have a picture of him working because it is dark in the garage. Sometimes Alfreda or I will join him, but we are usually too tired after working all day (see above picture) and it's not like rats are over-running the garage.

I still have my part-time job, promoting my mommy's books. If she sells books, she buys cat treats, so it's a win-win situation. If you haven't read her books, you might go to Amazon and take a look. Click on the title and you'll go right to the Amazon page: Patches on the Same Quilt, Them That Go, and Miracle of the Concrete Jesus. These are also available as ebooks.

You can learn about my mommy's books on her website, too: (Remember, books sold = treats for Tanner.) I promise I will share the treats with the other cats.

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Friday, August 02, 2019

Heinrich Surber, 6th Great-grandfather

During the 18thcentury, several of my ancestors came from the Palatinate, a dangerous region.

One of these ancestors was my 6th great-grandfather—Heinrich (Hendryk) Surber, age 50—who arrived in Philadephia on the ship Mercury on May 29, 1735, with his 15-year-old son Heinrich/Henry and 5-year-old daughter Verena. His wife Anna had apparently died on the voyage. Here is an account from a Surber message board on Ancestry that was credited to being on

On 29 May 1735 the ship Mercury, William Wilson, master, last from Rotterdam, Holland arrived at Philadelphia, Penn., with 186 passengers. Most of these passengers were from Zürich and nearby Swiss towns. These people were members of the Reformed Church in Switzerland.... This colony is one of the few whose history can be traced from origin to destination with some detail. On 7 Oct. 1735, The Nachrichten von Zürich(a newspaper), published the account.... The journey of the colonists from Zürich to Basel is told by Ludwig Weber, one of the emigrants who later returned from Holland. His notes were published in Zürich. The following is taken from his notes.

"...The main body consisting of 194 persons, embarked in two ships [on the river to the ocean, in winter weather]. They suffered intensely thru rain and cold and were poorly protected with scanty clothes and provisions.... the nights were wet and cold. Moreover the ships were crowded so badly that there was hardly enough room to sit, much less lie down. There was no opportunity to cook on the ships; and as they were compelled to remain on the ships day and night, the cries of the children were pitiful and heartrending. ...Quarrels between men and women were frequent."

... [They transferred from the two river ships to the single, larger ship Mercuryin late February, so] after leaving Mainz their journey was a little more comfortable as they could at least cook on board the ships.

... When they reached Neuwied, Weaterwald Canton, in Bavaria, four couples were married by a reformed minister. They were as follows:

1. Hans Conrad Wirtz and Anna Goetschy
2. Conrad Naff, of Walliselen and Anna N.---
3. Jacob Rathgeb and Barbara Haller both of Walliselen
4. Conrad Geweiller, a gardener and ---
...186 passengers in all on the ship Mercurythat reached Philadelphia 29 May l735....

In a letter from John Henry, the son of Rev Goetschy, to Zurich dated 21 July 1735 wrote in part the following: "After we had left Holland and surrendered ourselves to the wild and tempestuous ocean, its waves and its changeable winds, we reached through Gods great goodness toward us, England. After a lapse of two days we came to the Island of Wight, and there to a little town named Cowes, where our captain supplied himself with provisions for the great ocean trip. We secured medicines for the trip and then with a good East wind we sailed away from there. After a day and a night with the good wind we were buffeted with a terrible storm and the awful raging waves as we came into the Spanish and Portuguese oceans.

For 12 weeks we were subjected to these miseries and had to suffer all kinds of bad and dangerous storms and terrors of death. With these we were subjected to all kinds of bad diseases. The food was bad for we had to eat what they called "galley bread". We had to drink stinking muddy water, full of worms.

We had an evil tyrant and rascal for a captain and first mate, who regarded the sick as nothing more than dogs. If one said "I have to cook something for a sick man", He replied "get away from here or I'll throw you overboard". "What do I care about your sick devil?". In short, misfortune is everywhere upon the sea, we alone fared better. This has been the experience of all who have come to this land and even if a king were to travel the ocean it would behave no better.

After being in this misery sufficiently long God, The Lord, brought us out and showed us the land, which caused great joy among us. But three days passed, the wind being contrary, before we could enter into the right river. Finally a good south wind came and brought us in one day through the glorious and beautiful Delaware river which is a little larger than the Rhine, but not by far as wild as the Rhine." [They landed at Philadelphia, PA]
This account is probably typical of miseries our Palatinate ancestors endured during their escape. I have blogged about another of my Palatinate ancestors, Matthias Nehs, on my Naces of Lithia blog. He arrived in Philadelphia on September 21, 1731, on the Brittania. Among my other ancestors who escaped from the Palatinate were Nafzgers (Noffsingers) who arrived aboard the Phoenix on September 15, 1749. Several Naces married Noffsingers. Other Palatines were Fringers and Zirkles, but I'm not sure when they arrived. 

I’m glad these ancestors made their arduous and dangerous trip to get to America, and that their descendants migrated from Philadelphia westward to the Great Wagon Road and came south to Botetourt County. 

If they hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here.

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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Solving a Mystery

When I was in elementary school, the three types of books I liked—and the ones I was most likely to check out of the Huff Lane School library—were horse books, biographies, and mysteries. Horse books fed my passion for horses. I'd started seriously wanting a horse when I was seven but didn't get my first one until I was thirty-two. Biographies made me realize that people—even ones who'd lived and died long ago—could lead pretty interesting lives.  Mysteries intrigued me and kept me guessing until all the clues led to a solution. I especially  liked the way the girl detectives solved mysteries: first they noticed something amiss, then they looked for clues, and the clues finally led them to a solution. I wondered if I'd ever solve a mystery.

Recently, I did. The solution revealed some secrets about someone who had lived over a century ago—my 3rd great uncle, Matthew Harvey Nace, from Buchanan, Virginia. He was the relative no one would mention—he apparently did some dastardly deed and then disappeared. Every so often, I'd Google him (his first name sometimes appeared as "Mathew") without much luck. Then, I got incredibly lucky when I found a newsletter from Richmond's Hollywood Cemetery about a Nace monument being restored—a monument that Matthew Nace built for his wife Evaline, who died in 1854 after giving birth to their fourth child. (The infant, a girl, died six weeks later.) 

Nace Monument in Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, VA
Photo taken by Mike Ruble on July 28, 2018
Now I had some names and places, so I started Googling for other clues. And I found them.

Matthew and Evaline were married in Lynchburg in 1847. The 1850 census showed that 26-year-old Matthew, his wife Evaline Augusta Fuqua Christian, and daughter Fanny were living in Richmond where he was a merchant and one of his Christian in-laws lived next door.

Soon their son William (no doubt named for Matthew's father, William Nace) was born in December 1850 and their daughter Virginia Harvey in 1852. After Evaline's death, Matthew and his family moved to Brooklyn, New York. The 1855 Brooklyn census shows him living in a $10,000 stone house with his children, three Irish servants, his brother Robert, and an "L.P. Nace" who supposedly was a sister (although Matthew had no sisters). Matthew's job was "tobacco," and he was a partner in Nace & Coe—a company he was later accused of robbing and swindling. That, I concluded, was the dastardly deed.

His partner Israel Coe took out a newspaper ad after Matthew mysteriously vanished:

Matthew did write a letter to his former partner, and this letter—published Wells Vs. March case in Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Court of Appeals of the State of New York, Vol. 30, p. 346—explains a little more:

. . . and there Matthew Harvey Nace seemed to drop out of sight. But I kept Googling and occasionally checking info on I got lucky—and solved the mystery of what became of Matthew.

It turns out that Matthew didn't go directly to California—and he didn't sail. But he remarried (in Indiana), changed his name, ended up on the West coast, had a few more children, and had some interesting adventures. I've blogged about what I discovered about him on my Naces of Lithia genealogy blog. You can read what I learned about Matthew here: 


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Thursday, July 11, 2019

Rose of Sharon

Rose of Sharon bushes abound in my yard. When I moved here in 1999, there were none. I transplanted one from my house in Roanoke, bought another at K-Mart for 25¢, and Mama gave me one from her yard. Through the years, those Rose of Sharon bushes have taken off. Here are some pictures from a few weeks ago:

Bees and hummingbirds love these flowers.