#ColonialAmerica: What’s a High and Dry?

If you look up “high and dry” in the dictionary, you’re likely to find a definition something like this:  being out of reach of the current or tide; being in a helpless position. My dictionary only identifies “high and dry” as an adjective that first came into common use in 1786. It’s first known use was in 1727.

You can find this and additional information about that use of “high and dry” by going to https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/high%20and%20dry. (I hope that’s clickable. I’m having some problems posting this today.)


That’s not the “high and dry” I’m talking about in today’s blog post.

My introduction to the noun “high and dry” came from a docent at the Hezekiah Alexander House in Charlotte, North Carolina. I learned that it was the name of an enclosed tiny cupboard on the mantle of a fireplace. If memory serves me correctly from the tour I took 15 or more years ago, that particular high and dry was approximately eight inches wide and perhaps ten inches tall. It was made of wood and had a secure door. It was where the Alexander family would have kept their cone of sugar in the 1700s.

In the backcountry of the Carolinas, sugar was a precious commodity. In order to be of use, it had to be kept dry. It stands to reason, that a homemaker who had spent precious family resources to purchase a cone of sugar would have taken measures to keep the sugar protected from moisture and the high humidity associated with The South.

One of my handiest reference books as a writer of historical fiction is English Through the Ages, by William Brohaugh. It has saved me more than once when I was going to use a word in a short story or my work-in-progress novel, only to find out from Mr. Brohaugh’s book that the word I wanted to use was not yet in use in the time period of my story or novel.

Mr. Brohaugh’s book says the “high and dry” was in use as a noun “by 1825.” I had hoped for proof of its use in the 1700s, but seeing it in the Hezekiah Alexander House is proof enough for me. I wish I had a photo of the Alexanders’ high and dry to illustrate my blog post today.


An illustrative blog by Stephanie Ann Farra:  World Turn’d Upside Down

I was pleased to find the following blog post from 2013 that illustrates the form of sugar that was used in colonial America:  https://www.worldturndupsidedown.com/2013/05/how-to-make-colonial-era-sugar-cone-or.html. If you aren’t familiar with a cone of sugar, please look at the photographs Ms. Farra included in her blog post.

Just for fun, I decided last Wednesday to follow Ms. Farra’s instructions and try to make my own sugar cone. How did that go? Here’s a picture of my sugar cone. With the assistance of gravity for several hours and hot water, the cone was eventually released from the vase that served as my mold. I now have more of an appreciation for the making of sugar cones in colonial times.

Sugar cone made with water, sugar, and a vase as a mold.
My attempt at making a sugar cone.

Inheriting the Trade:  A Northern Family Confronts Its Legacy as the Largest Slave-Trading Dynasty in U.S. History, by Thomas Norman DeWolf

While writing this blog post, I was reminded of a memoir I read in 2008 (yes, I’ve kept a list of the books I’ve read since 1993) that is related to today’s topic about sugar. Inheriting the Trade:  A Northern Family Confronts Its Legacy as the Largest Slave-Trading Dynasty in U.S. History, by Thomas Norman DeWolf, is an eye-opening book about how the trading of slaves, sugar, and rum were intimately entangled in colonial America – the largest such family dynasty being in Rhode Island. I highly recommend this book to anyone who believes only Southerners were guilty of benefiting from the slave trade.

Quoting from the book jacket:  “In 2001, at forty-seven, Thomas DeWolf was astounded to discover that he was related to the most successful slave-trading family in American history, responsible for transporting at least 10,000 Africans to the Americas. His infamous ancestor, U.S. senator James DeWolf of Bristol, Rhode Island, curried favor with President Jefferson to continue in the trade after it was outlawed. When James DeWolf died in 1837, he was the second-richest man in America.”

In researching his family’s history, Thomas Norman DeWolf and nine of his relatives retraced the steps of their ancestors, going to Ghana, Cuba, and New England. I salute their honesty in revealing to us their family history. It puts a face on an important part of United States history that has been swept under the rug for far too long.


What was left out of my history textbooks?

When I was in school, I wasn’t taught much about the slave trade in colonial and early America. I grew up believing that The South bore all the blame for slavery in America. That’s how the history books of the day were written.

My textbooks did not tell me that Africans were enslaved in the northern states at all, much less for more than 200 years. They did not tell me that the majority of slave trading in America was done by people from the northern states.

It has only been in my adult years that I’ve learned more of the truth. It troubles me that I wasn’t taught the whole truth as an elementary and high school student. It troubles me even more that so little time is now allotted to the study of American history in the public schools of North Carolina that today’s students will graduate knowing even less of our nation’s history than I did. I hope conditions are different in the state in which you live.


Since my last blog post

When I select a topic for a blog post, I don’t necessarily know where it will take me. In today’s post, I set out to define a high and dry. Little did I know it would lead me into a reference to the slave/sugar/rum trade in America. The three are interwoven, though, and one cannot truly understand the one while ignoring the others.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. Tackling my to-be-read list, I’m listening to The Broker, by John Grisham.

If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have quality creative time.

Thank you for reading my blog post. You have many things vying for your attention and time, so I appreciate the fact that you took time to read my blog today. I hope you’ll visit it every week to see what I’m up to.


Let’s continue the conversation

I would love to know what any of my blog readers know about the “high and dry” as I’m writing about it today as a noun. Have you seen such a little cupboard as you’ve toured other colonial homes? Please share anything you’ve seen, read, or heard about this tiny piece of cabinetry.

Janet

#TwoForTuesday: Two of my Unsung Female Heroes

Many unsung female heroes have crossed my path. I haven’t known any famous people, so all the heroes in my life – male and female – are unsung.

I’m going to break the “Two-For” rule today and write about just one of my unsung female heroes, my great-great-great-great-grandmother, Mary Morrison. I know her only through names and dates on the written page and a plain rock that marks her grave in Spears Graveyard, but she is my hero.

Mary Morrison (17??-1781)

I know few details of this Mary Morrison’s life. I don’t know if she had a bubbly personality or was a negative person. I only know her from the circumstances of her life.

She was born in Scotland, probably on the Kintyre Peninsula in 1732. She married John Morrison from the same place. They came to America, lived in Pennsylvania for a while, then moved to North Carolina in the 1760s.

Mary and John had nine children. John died in 1777. Tradition tells us that he was ambushed by Tories not far from his and Mary’s home. Knowing that he would soon die, he wrote his will in August of 1777 and died less than a week later. From John’s will, we know that Mary was expecting their last child at the time because he made provisions for the unborn child.

Sadly, Mary died early in 1781, leaving her minor children in the care of relatives. We also know that when Mary was sick and writing her will that one of her daughters was very ill and it was uncertain if the daughter would survive that illness.

What a hard life Mary must have had! I hope she had joy in her life.

I marvel at how she left Scotland for the great unknown American frontier. She left a place on the sea for a new life 200 miles inland in the backcountry of North Carolina where the woods and meadows were filled with all sorts of wild animals about which she knew little or nothing. She must have feared every day for disease or injury to herself and her family.

I live on land today that has been passed down from generation to generation from John and Mary. I came to feel a real kinship with Mary a few years ago as I worked in our vegetable and flower garden.

Summer Squash
Dragonfly in our garden

I practiced organic gardening, much as Mary would have in the 1770s. I imagined Mary growing some of the same vegetables and varieties of flowers on this same land. I enjoyed the butterflies, writing spiders, hoppy toads, dragonflies, birds, and box turtles that visited the garden, and I liked to think that Mary did, too.

As I was always on the lookout for copperhead snakes while in my garden, I can’t help but think Mary kept an eye open for them, too. One of the earliest things my parents taught me was how to distinguish between a copperhead and a non-poisonous snake. I feel sure that was an early lesson Mary and John taught their children. Also, how to identify and avoid poison oak.

I can imagine Mary showing her children how to pluck a honeysuckle blossom, bite the end of the stem off, and suck in the sweetness of the flower.

Passion Flower

When wild passion flowers sprouted in her garden, I hope she left them to grow, bloom, and produce lollypops.

When the wild orange butterfly weed bloomed in sunny spots in the yard, I hope Mary showed her children the black, yellow, and white-striped caterpillars munching on the green leaves, and I hope she knew to tell them that those caterpillars would one day be transformed into brilliant Monarch butterflies.

Wild Butterfly Weed and Monarch Butterfly Caterpillars

Mary did not have benefit of a tractor to till her garden, comfortable 21st century clothing to wear in the summer sun, or an air-conditioned house to retreat to when the heat and humidity got the best of her or when her back ached or blisters rose on the palms of her hands.

Raccoon in our yard on April 28, 2014.

I gardened because I wanted to. Mary gardened because she had to. If deer trampled her corn or raccoons raided her apple trees, it could be a matter of life or death for her family. When it happened to me, I just got mad and bought corn and apples at the supermarket.

When the deer and raccoons decided to eat all the plants in my garden, I raised the white flag of surrender and stopped gardening. Mary didn’t have the luxury of stopping. In fact, she probably didn’t have the luxury of stopping for a single day of her life. She could never stop working hard or worrying about her family.

My heart breaks to think of her on her death bed in March of 1781, writing her will, and wondering what would become of her orphaned children.

When I get to Heaven, I will sit down with Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandmother Mary Morrison and hear all about her life and her garden.

Grandmother, you’re my hero!

Until my next blog post

Thank you, Rae, of “Rae’s Reads and Reviews Blog” for this month’s #TwoForTuesday blog post prompts. I learned about her prompts in her January 8, 2019 blog post:  https://educatednegra.blog/2019/01/08/two-for-tuesday-prompts/comment-page-1/#comment-1646.

I look forward to seeing what Rae has in store for us in April. If you’d like to participate, visit her blog and tell her you’re interested.

Let’s continue the conversation

In the comments section below, tell me about one or two of your unsung female heroes.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog today.

Janet

How to Recapture the Joy of Writing

If you read my December 17, 2018 blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2018/12/17/to-write-or-not-to-write/, you know that I was considering giving up my ambition of writing and publishing a novel.

After much prayer, soul searching, reading some blogs and articles about writing – as well as reading many encouraging comments from my blog readers – I have decided to recommit to writing my southern historical novel.

Working title: The Spanish Coin OR The Doubloon

The working title of my book is The Spanish Coin, which refers to a gold Spanish coin – a doubloon – that shows up in a Carolina backcountry community in the 1760s. There is a murder, after which the coin is missing. Is there anyone in the small community who is not a viable suspect?

That’s the story I’ve been working on off and on for more than 10 years. I’m not getting any younger, so I’d really like to finish writing it. I would also love to get it published. That’s why I wanted to recapture my joy of writing.

Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic Rewards

Several hours after posting my blog on December 17, 2018, I read an article that was just what I needed. The link to “How to Restore Your Love of Writing” is https://writersinthestormblog.com/2018/12/how-to-restore-your-love-of-writing/. The article was written by Colleen M. Story, and it addressed much of the problem I wrote about on December 17, 2018.

In her blog post, Ms. Story explains that there are two kind of rewards writers seek: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic refers to the rewards the world gives us, while intrinsic refers to the rewards we get from within ourselves.

First, I needed to discern which type of rewards I wanted. Ms. Story offered several questions that I asked myself. Those questions led me to conclude that money would be great, but that’s not what is driving me. It is a sense of accomplishment that I seek.

What led me to start writing in the first place? It wasn’t money. Those who think, “I’ll be a writer and get rich” are setting themselves up for crushing disappointment. Some writers make the big bucks, but they are the exception.

What led me to start writing was an innate desire to put my thoughts on paper. I kept journals as a teenager and sporadically as an adult. I took a creative writing class in high school, but I never considered writing as a possible career.

Another blog post I found helpful

Several days later, I read the December 19, 2018 Writers in the Storm blog post:  https://writersinthestormblog.com/2018/12/top-10-writing-success-tips-from-ray-bradbury/. In it, Jenny Hansen lists her 10 favorite writing success tips from author Ray Bradbury. The five that resonated with me were the following:

            Do the work.

            Do what you love.

            Embrace your emotions.

            Read.

            Get out of your own way.

And, of course, my blog readers inspired me

I received a number of comments about my December 17, 2018 blog post, and I took encouragement from each one of you.

Since my last blog post

I have started writing a short story set in colonial America. I’d like to publish a book of short stories set in colonial America – my favorite place and time in history.

Until my next blog post

I’ll try to take Ray Bradbury’s advice and get out of my own way.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating, by Alan Alda.

If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?, by Alan Alda

If you’re a writer, I hope you know why you’re writing. I hope writing gives you joy.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog. I appreciate it! I welcome your comments.

Let’s continue the conversation.

Have you ever lost the joy you once had for an artistic endeavor, a favorite hobby or pastime, or your once much-enjoyed career? How were you able to recapture that joy?

Janet