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

Raising Flax

It would be strange indeed if I failed to set down anything concerning the flax which we spin, because save for it we would have had nothing of linen except what could be brought from England. There is no question but that every one who reads this will know exactly how flax is raised and spun into cloth; but yet I am minded to explain, because we girls of Boston have more to do with raising flax than with any other crop.

It is sown early in the spring, and when the plants are three or four inches high, we girls are obliged to weed them, and in so doing are forced to go barefoot because of the stalks being very tender and therefore easily broken down.


I do not believe there is a child in town who fails to go into the flax fields, because of its being such work as can be done by young people better than by older ones, who are heavier and more likely to injure the plants.

I have said that we are obliged to go barefooted; but where there is a heavy growth of thistles, as is often the case, we girls wear two or three pairs of woolen stockings to protect our feet.

If there is any wind, we must perforce work facing it, so that such of the plants as may by accident have been trodden down, may be blown back into place by the breeze.

Wearying labor it is indeed, this weeding of the flax, and yet those who come into a new world, as have we, must not complain at whatsoever is set them to do, for unless much time is expended, crops cannot be raised, and we children of Boston need only to be reminded of the famine, when we are inclined to laziness, in order to set us in motion.

Of course you know that flax is a pretty plant, with a sweet, drooping, blue flower, and it ripens about the first of July, when it is pulled up by the roots and laid carefully out to dry, much as if one were making hay. This sort of work is always done by the men and boys, and during two or three days they are forced to turn the flax again and again, so that the sun may come upon every part of it.

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