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

How We Kept House

While building the clumsy fireplace, I had asked myself many times how it might be possible for mother to do any cooking when it was filled with blazing wood; but I soon had good proof that it would serve her purpose nearly as well as if it had been fashioned properly, with a fair chimney to carry away the smoke. She had brought with her what house-wives call a Dutch oven, which is nothing more than a box of thin iron, with one side wholly open so that the heat may come at whatever is inside, and with a shelf in the middle to hold three or four small pots or pans.


Ours was about three feet wide, two feet in depth, with a height of two and one half feet. When the open side of this was set directly in front of the fire, and well into the fireplace that it might be banked around with live embers, that which had been put inside must perforce be cooked, and in a very cleanly manner.

There is little need for me to say that mother had iron pots which might be hung directly over the fire by chains attached to a stout bar of wood laid across the top of the fireplace; but these could be used only for boiling, while the baking must be done in some such contrivance as the oven.

Many of our neighbors, having no such luxuries as we, baked their bread in iron pans set directly among the embers; but this was by no means cleanly, since, as father often said, there was more of ashes than meal when the loaf was cooked.

As for water, we had it in plenty. Within twenty yards of our cave was a spring from which an hundred people might have quenched their thirst every minute in the day without lessening the supply, and in front of us was the river, on the bank of which, when the weather was not too cold, mother and I washed the clothes.

When we first set up housekeeping, father believed we could make shift to eat while sitting on the ground; but before the first meal had come to an end, both he and mother understood that something in the way of a table must be provided.

It would surprise you to know how readily you can make certain things for your comfort or necessities, when forced so to do, or go without. I made legs for a table by driving four stakes firmly into the ground on that portion of our floor of earth opposite the fireplace. From one to the other of these I tied four saplings with small ropes which one of the seamen gave me.


Our goods had been put on board the ship in huge wooden boxes, and the boards from one of these made the top of my table, while for chairs we had short, stout logs, so large that they would not readily be overset.

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