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James Otis

Building a House of Logs

While the others were hunting here and there for the gold which it had been said could be picked up in Virginia as one gathers acorns in the old world, Captain Smith set about making a house of logs such as would protect him from the storms of winter as well as from the summer sun.

This he did by laying four logs on the ground in the form of a square, and so cutting notches in the ends of each that when it was placed on the top of another, and at right angles with it, the hewn portions would interlock, one with the other, holding all firmly in place. On top of these, other huge tree trunks were laid with the same notching of the ends.

It was a vast amount of labor, thus to roll up the heavy logs in the form of a square until a pen or box had been made as high as a man's head, and then over that was built a roof of logs fastened together with wooden pins, or pegs, for iron nails were all too scarce and costly to be used for such purpose.

When the house had been built thus far, the roof was formed of no more than four or five logs on which a thatching of grass was to be laid later, and the ends, in what might be called the "peak of the roof," were open to the weather. Then it was that roughly hewn planks, or logs split into three or four strips, called puncheons, were pegged with wooden nails on the sides, or ends, where doors or windows were to be made.


Then the space inside this framework was sawed out, and behold you had a doorway, or the opening for a window, to be filled in afterward as time and material with which to work might permit.

After this had been done, the ends under the roof were covered with yet more logs, sawn to the proper length and pegged together, until, save for the crevices between the timbers, the whole gave protection against the weather.

Then came the work of thatching the roof, which was done by the branches of trees, dried grass, or bark. My master put on first a layer of branches from which the leaves had been stripped, and over that we laid coarse grass to the depth of six or eight inches, binding the same down with small saplings running from one side to the other, to the number of ten on each slope of the roof.

To me was given the task of closing up the crevices between the logs with mud and grass mixed, and this I did the better because Nathaniel Peacock worked with me, doing his full share of the labor.