Gateway to the Classics: Ruth of Boston by James Otis
Ruth of Boston by  James Otis

Household Conveniences

Do you know what a betty-lamp is? We have two in our house, which were brought over by Captain Pierce of the Lyon, as a gift to my mother.

You, who have more or less trouble with your rush lights, cannot fancy how luxurious it is to have one of these betty-lamps, which costs in care no more than is required to fill them with grease or oil.

Fearing lest you may not know what these lamps are, which Susan's mother says should be called brown-bettys, I will do my best to set down here such a description as shall bring them before you.

The two which we have are made of brass; but Captain Pierce says they are also to be found of pewter or of iron.

These are round, and very much the same shape as half an apple, save that they have a nose an inch or two long, which sticks out from one side. The body of the bowl is filled with tallow or grease, and the wick, or a piece of twisted cloth, is threaded into the nose, with one end hanging out to be lighted.

Ours hang by chains from the ceiling, and the light which they give is certainly equal to, if not stronger than, that of a wax candle; but they are not so cleanly, because if the wick be ever so little too long, the lamps send forth a great smoke.


Father says he has seen a phoebe-lamp, which is much like our betty-lamps, save that it has a small cup underneath the nose to catch the dripping grease, and that I think would be a great improvement, if indeed it is possible to improve upon so useful an article of household furniture as this.

Speaking of our betty-lamps reminds me that Susan's mother had sent over to her in the Lyon, a set of cob irons, which are something after the fashion of andirons, or fire-dogs, save that they are also intended to hold the spit and the dripping pan. She had also a pair of "creepers," which are small andirons, and which she sometimes used with the cob irons.

The andirons which we brought from England are much too fine to be used in this fireplace, which is filled with pothooks, trammels, hakes, and other cooking utensils.


They were a wedding present to my mother, and are in what we call "sets of three," meaning that on each side of the fireplace are three andirons; one to hold the heavy logs that are at the bottom of the fire; another raised still higher to bear the weight of the smaller sticks, and a third for much the same purpose as the second; or, perhaps, to make up more of an ornament, for they are of iron and brass, and are exceeding beautiful to look upon.

I have used the words trammels and hakes, but it is possible that you may not know their meaning, and so I will add by way of explanation that though they are both hooks upon which we may hang pots and kettles, the trammel is so constructed that it may be lengthened or shortened, being made of two parts.

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