Much of the work associated with living in a rural household of the mid-1800s took place in the backyard of the main house. Called "the yard", this area was enclosed by a picket fence that kept out pigs and other farm animals. A typical yard of this time held many buildings associated with domestic activities. In 1860, John Fox owned a total of 53 slaves and about 15 of them were house servants. House servants lived closer to the Fox family in quarters near the Fox House and yard. John Fox's own family included up to15 persons. With such a large number of people living in or near the house, the yard was a very busy place. The majority of Fox's slaves worked in the fields, which were located about 3 miles from the John Fox House. Slave quarters were probably located about close to the fields on Fox's plantation, which was known as "The Point". Fox's personal papers contain a building list . See if you can find references to the John Fox house and the buildings that would have been slave quarters. (Vlach 1993, 33-37)
Brick Oven: This outside oven was used about once a week to bake a supply of cakes, bread, and pies for the household. A fire of dry wood was built inside the oven early in the morning. It burned for about 3 hours while the cooks prepared the foods [link to foods text] for baking. After 3 hours the brick oven walls were hot, the ashes of the fire were raked out, the pans of food were pushed inside with a long-handled wooden paddle called a peel, and the wooden door was shut. When done, the pans of food were removed using the peel. The shed protecting the oven also served as a woodshed to keep firewood dry. There were 10 fireplaces to provide wood for use in the John Fox House and the kitchen. It was the job of young boys to make sure the woodshed was stacked with good oak and hickory firewood.
Wash Pots (next to oven): Stored next to the oven are large iron wash pots. Several were kept available for boiling clothes over an open fire. The clothes were first boiled in hot water, then taken out and rubbed with lye soap [link to Ash Hopper text], then beaten with paddles or rubbed on ribbed boards, then rinsed in cool water and hung on ropes or clotheslines strung between the buildings or trees to dry in the sunshine. Wash pots served a variety of functions, such as processing pork at butchering time, cooking chicken stews, boiling peanuts, making soap, and melting wax for candles.
Summer Dairy: There are two dairy sheds in the yard, one for winter and one for summer use. The summer dairy you see here was used to keep eggs, milk, and cheese cool during warm months. The John Fox yard had no creek or stream of water nearby, so no springhouse existed here. The freestanding dairy sheds were necessary to keep milk, cream, butter, and cheese safe from the kitchen's heat. Cows were milked in the barnyard. Milk was then strained through a clean cloth to remove any trash that may have fallen in during milking. Milk was placed in large crocks or bowls for about a day until the rich cream and butterfat rose to the top. This cream was skimmed off the milk and churned into butter. Churning was done in the kitchen near the fire. Churning separated the butter from the buttermilk. The butter was then pressed into cakes in the butter molds and returned to the dairy sheds to keep it fresh. In hot weather about 8 inches of cold well water was put in the bottom of the summer diary. The milk products were then put into bowls or pitchers, covered with white cloth and set with the cold water around them to keep them cool. The winter dairy contained an open slatted front, which allowed cold air in. The winter dairy was used the same way as the summer dairy, but without the water.
Ash Hopper: This ash hopper was used to make lye soap. Rainwater mixed with ashes created lye. Lye was then mixed with animal tallow to make soap. In 1938, Eison Lyles, a former slave on the Lyles Plantation in Newberry, told a WPA interviewer of his experience making soap with an ash hopper. Read to Eison Lyles slave narrative to learn more about this interview.
Sweet Potato House: The sweet potato house stored sweet potatoes (and some Irish potatoes) on pine straw. This building was always open for anyone hungry for a snack. Fox's personal papers contain a building list. See if you can find any references to his "potatoe" house. According to the agricultural census John Fox produced 300 bushels of sweet potatoes in 1850. One of his neighbors in Lexington District produced 800 bushels that same year. How many sweet potatoes did John Fox produce in 1860 and then in 1870? See the agricultural census for 1860, and for 1870, for the answer. Why do you suppose the number of sweet potatoes produced in 1870 is less?
Apiary: The apiary kept bees for wax and honey. In one of his personal letters, John Fox wrote about his apiary claiming that the bees knew him and therefore would not sting him. The 1850 agricultural census does not report any beeswax or honey produced on John Fox's farm that year, but some of his neighbors produced as much as 70 pounds of beeswax and honey.
Smokehouse: The smokehouse might be called "a machine for preserving meat," particularly pork. Historians have each noted that hogs were as important to the southern diet as cotton was to the southern economy. In this sense, if cotton was "king," then the hog must be "queen." How many smokehouses do you find on Fox's list of buildings? Hogs slaughtered late in the fall would keep until the next year's butchering if their quartered carcasses were salted and then dried over a smoldering fire. Once full of meat, smokehouses would almost always be locked. Historians have estimated that pork constituted 75 percent of the southern diet during the mid 1800s. Between 1840 and 1860, there were 2.2 hogs for each man, woman, and child living in the southern states, translating that every southerner would have potential access to approximately three hundred pounds of pork per year. According to the census records, how many hogs or swine did John Fox own on his farm in Lexington District in 1860? (Hilliard 1972, 92; Vlach 1993, 63-64)
Privy: Within this privy or outhouse, there are 3 holes or "toilets" that served as the bathroom for everyone in the household, which included up to 30 people. According to Fox family lore, black widow spiders commonly lurked about in the privy, and adults would often shoo them away with a corncob before children could use the bathroom. What do you think people would have done if they had to go to the bathroom at night or when it was raining? What might people possibly use for a "toilet" in their home?
Most of the food was grown on the nearby plantation (called "The Point") or in the yard itself. Large numbers of hogs, beef cattle, sheep and goats provided meat. Pork was the most popular meat, prepared fresh, or prepared with salt in the smokehouse. Pork not only was eaten as a main dish, but was used to flavor vegetables and for cooking oil as well. Other meats, including poultry from the yard (chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese, guineas, and pigeons), wild game (rabbits, deer, squirrels) and fish caught from nearby rivers and millponds would have been prepared fresh. Since there was not refrigeration, meat could not be kept long without salting. It was cooked quickly, often barbequed in hot weather, and was cooked well done to prevent food poisoning. Even today many Southerners prefer to eat well-done meats as a matter of choice since our ancestors cooked this way.
The plantation produced large amounts of corn, some of which was processed into corn meal, grits, or big hominy. Wheat was milled into flour, and rice was also grown. Dairy cows in the barnyard produced milk that was processed into cream, butter, buttermilk, and cheese. Peas, beans, cabbage, collards, turnips, squash, cucumbers, melons of all types, pumpkins, okra, tomatoes, and both sweet and Irish potatoes came from large kitchen gardens. Some of these vegetables could be dried to preserve them. From orchards came apples, pears, peaches, and plums, may types of berries, and a variety of nuts such as pecans and walnuts. Sugar, coffee, tea, and spices, some citrus fruits, and coconuts could be bought in Columbia and were closely regulated by Mrs. Fox. The best foods went to the dining room of the Fox house for the owner's family. Enslaved persons ate the plainer foods. Mrs. Fox had to make sure that enough food was prepared for everyone to eat, but not so much that anything was wasted. How many of these foods can you find listed on the census records for 1850? See if you can find out how many bushels of corn were produced in 1850? Compare that number to the one found in the 1870 Census. How are these records different? (Hilliard, 37)
Biography of John Fox
The life and legacy of John Fox provides a window into the world of antebellum southern agriculture. The Lexington County Museum preserves the John Fox House, as well as a number of supporting outbuildings and other historic structures. Born on 14 December 1805, John Fox was the son of Jesse Fox and Faraba Ward. Fox married Anna Mathias on 29 March 1827, and they had two children: Sarah Ann and Joseph Ward. After Anna's death on 8 November 1830, John Fox became remarried to Eliza Ann Poindexter on 1 November 1832. John and Eliza had five children: Amanda Maria, Thomas Shelton, Mary Jane Elizabeth, James Poindexter, and John Jesse. Students from the nearby Lutheran seminary also stayed at the Fox household. The 1850 census shows five young students living with the Foxes.
John Fox was a planter, merchant, and local politician in Lexington District. John Fox's public career began in 1828 when he was elected sheriff (1828-1832 and 1836-1840). Fox later represented Lexington District in the House (1852-1853 and 1854-1855) and in the Senate (1856-1857 and 1858-1859). After the Civil War, Fox became the delegate for Lexington for the state constitutional convention in 1865. The 1860 federal census reports that John Fox owned property (real and personal) valued at $86,700. The bulk of his personal property included 53 slaves, who are listed on the 1860 slave schedule. Census records indicate that John Fox owned about 1,500 acres of land in 1860. Fox's personal papers show as many as twenty buildings in his name. On 1 July 1884, John Fox died and was buried in Batesburg. His wife, Eliza, and four children survived him. (Bailey, Morgan, and Taylor 1986, 524-525)
I was little but I soon learned to make lye soap.
We put up the hopper. That meant hanging up strong ash wood and
hickory ashes in a bag that was wet, so the lye would drip down
into a box where soap was made. When a hopper was made, it was in
a V shape, with a trough underneath for the drippings. To make soap
you have to have pork grease.
Eison Lyles, Lyles Plantation, Newberry, S.C.
The above slave narrative is an edited transcript from an interview with Eison Lyles of Newberry, South Carolina. This transcript is part of a compilation edited by Nancy Rhyne and published in 1999 by Sandlapper Publishing Company, Inc. The suggested citation for this source is: Rhyne, Nancy, ed. Voices of Carolina Slave Children. (Orangeburg, SC: Sandlapper Publishing Company, Inc., 1999), 100.
The original transcript of this narrative and others can be found in the collection of the Federal Writer's Project, United States Work Projects Administration (USWPA); Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.
For additional information about the WPA Slave Narratives, click here [http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/snhtml/snhome.html] to access a digital collection from American Memory called Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1938.