Lexington County Museum WebQuest ""

Transcript for the Dining Room

The John Fox House was built around 1832 and his descendants lived in it continuously for more than a century afterwards. Refurnished with locally made items from the mid-1800s, this house illustrates the patterns of life in a prosperous, local farming family.

The dining room of the John Fox House is a long room and appears today as it did in the 1840s. The Foxes ate their meals in the dining room three times a day and also entertained visitors with food. Breakfast was served soon after sunrise, so breakfast time changed with the seasons of the year. This meal consisted of hot breads, waffles, ham, sausage, eggs, bacon, beefsteak with stewed or raw fruits, and strong coffee. The meal was eaten quickly since the workday began early and much needed to be done each day. The main meal of the day, called dinner, took place between 12:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. and usually featured several meats, vegetables and breads with a heavy dessert. Beverages with dinner might include hot tea, coffee, cool buttermilk, or water. Wine was usually served only when entertaining guests. The midday meal might last as long as three hours, and children under 12 typically had to wait until the adults were finished before they could eat.

The evening meal, called supper, would be served at candlelight, or just at sunset. Supper was usually a light meal of leftovers from dinner or even just a piece of cornbread crumbled into a glass of buttermilk. In summer, a slice of watermelon might do. Even in the hottest weather, there were truly no cold drinks. Ice was unavailable except in the coldest times when it was not needed. Many people considered cold beverages unhealthy. Heavy meals during the day and light meals during suppertime was the norm. Since the Fox family went to bed quite early, eating a light supper allowed them to sleep more comfortably.

Pie Safe: This pie safe holds baked goods. Most pie safes, such as this one, contain locks on the doors. Notice the decorative design painted on the tin. What might these decorative designs on the tin symbolize? Also, notice the basket underneath the table, which is sometimes called a "burden basket." Why would this be known as a "burden basket?"

Hunt Board: While the Fox family men were out hunting, this hunt board was placed outside on the back porch to hold food. Why do you suppose hunters would eat their food outside and away from the dining room?

Children's Table: Once the adults finished eating dinner, the children came to the dining room to eat at this drop leaf walnut table. There was always enough food to serve everyone. The children did not stay long at their meals. They could talk with one another but no one was allowed to hum or sing while at the table. They were encouraged to eat quickly so the table could be cleared and the dishes carried back to the kitchen. Small children could sit in the high chair at the table, but the very youngest ones ate in the kitchen. Dogs were never allowed in the dining room during meals.

China Cabinet: The China cabinet typically contained canton ware china, which was placed in a forward tilt position to detract dust and flies. Plates and cutlery were almost always kept in the dining room.

Adult's Table: Food was served on the center turntable, known as a lazy Susan. Each person sitting at the table could turn the lazy Susan to obtain food. The chair seats were low so that those sitting for meals would have their faces close to the plates and there would be less chance of food dropping onto their clothing. Washing clothes was hard work and wore the clothes out, so keeping them clean was important. The tables were always covered with white linen tablecloths at mealtime and large cloth napkins in the diners' laps helped keep clothes clean.Six-petal flower (hex) designs come to us from a long tradition of German and
Swiss-German origin. They were usually placed on barns to ward off evil spirits
that might destroy crop harvests or livestock. Closer to our time, however, six-petal
designs like the one seen in the Lexington County pie safe have been used only for decoration.

History of the Symbol

In the middle ages six-petal flower designs had specific meaning. The sun wheel, for example, is an ancient Germanic sign that figured in their view of the world through a nature-oriented pagan divinity-structure. Hitler used a simplified "sun wheel" sign for his swastika. That was definitely NOT the meaning of the Hex signs of Dutch Fork folk in antebellum Lexington County. Remember that Saxe Gotha settlers predated Hitler by two centuries.

The middle ages of the Christian era knew a set of numerological "signs." In the case of the pie safe's six-pointed star, that might refer to numerology. In that system,the number six relates to the six days of God's creation of the world, and also to the "Chrismon" (Christ monogram) which is formed by the Greek letter X (chi) and P (rho), forming with its six "arms" the title of Christ and symbolizing His power. St. Augustin saw the special meaning of the number Six in the fact that it is the sum of the first three numbers (1+2+3=6). The number Three, according to Augustine, signifies perfection and is the key to the world as a whole, being the symbol of God (Trinity) and the soul. As is so often true of symbolism, the number Six also represents its direct opposite: 666 being the number of the "beast," the devil. The hexagram, constructed of two triangles, is also the seal of Salomo, used by Jews and Muslims alike.

The pie safe's symbol is open to interpretation. However, we may assume that the pie safe's creator did not know much about all of this background and simply made a six-pointed star. However, in folk art these symbols are perpetuated often unwittingly, just by the belief that this type of sign has great power to ward off evil because it is part of the divine. To this day, Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish, continue the mediaeval European tradition of using six-petal flower designs in decorative arts.

Dr. Helene M. Riley

Clemson University