Gateway to the Classics: Stephen of Philadelphia by James Otis
Stephen of Philadelphia by  James Otis

Our Cave Home Completed

It would be dry reading if I were to set down what we did day after day until we had what might be called a home, therefore I will say that we were near to a week in building the shelter, and when the task was finished we had a roomy cave, with logs stretching across the top, held in place by other logs set on end.

At one side was a hole which extended entirely through the sand to the surface, and when this had been fitted with a chimney of bark, cut from a huge tree in two sections, and of sufficient height to cause a free draught of air, we had the possibility of a fireplace.

I spent three days searching for flat stones with which to make the fireplace, and since, of course, we had no mortar with which to hold the stones together, I plastered them plentifully with mud until the whole stood fairly firm. It was nothing more than a clumsy box, open in the front and at the top; but it had been built by me, without any aid from either father or mother, and right fine did it look in my eyes.

We had our beds at the farthest end of the cave, where the wind might not come at us, and very comfortable they were. Father made of small tree trunks two frames, like unto bedsteads, with poles to form the bottoms, and these I filled high with the small ends of pine and sassafras boughs, after which mother covered the whole with quilts, putting on the very top beds of feathers.

At the mouth of the cave, on a ledge which had been formed by shoveling away the earth, was a sort of hut, built of small tree trunks and stout branches, which served as a storeroom for such goods as might not come to harm by being wet, and also as a sitting room for mother in fair weather.


By the time our house was finished, and the outer room roofed over with sods, there were no less than twenty of these cave homes near at hand, the dwellers in which, like ourselves, were waiting until it should be known where the city was to be built.


There were, however, a dozen or more places in which to live that were not so snug and comfortable as ours. More than one of the men, believing the other vessels would arrive within a few days, refused to spend so much labor on a shelter that might be abandoned within a week, and these made tiny cabins of sods, Indian-like huts of trees and bushes, or simply shelters of bark just as it had been peeled from the trees.

Those who neglected to make good provision for the winter repented of their indolence, however, for many a weary day passed before all the company that were to live in the city had come together in America.

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