1776. A group of Founding Fathers joined together and declared independence from Great Britain, creating that famous document beginning with the words, “When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands…”
I bet you thought those fine fellows were first off the mark, writing such rebellious rhetoric.
After enduring the hottest October morning I’ve ever encountered, albeit in otherwise very pleasant surroundings just outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, my wife and I had the afternoon to fill. A bit of research pointed us at the Charlotte Museum of History, and specifically, the Hezekiah Alexander house.
So who’s this Hezekiah Alexander dude, and what does he have to do with the Declaration of Independence?
Well, at first I thought he was one of the signers. We joined a tour led by the museum, and they were making noises like he signed the declaration. And he did.
We’ll get back to that in a couple minutes. But first, let’s spend more time looking at the house.
It was built in 1774. Europeans may yawn at such a cornerstone, but at that time here in the American west the only folks around were natives, and they didn’t do cornerstones. Portland didn’t even show up on a map for another 80 years. I was impressed.
By today’s standards, it’s a nice place, nothing special except maybe the rock walls. But in that day and age, the average house was a one-room wooden construction that would nearly fit in the foyer of the Alexander house. Hezekiah was well off. The house itself was a cornerstone, for a plantation of 600 acres.
On the other hand, the Alexander house is a fraction of the size of the McMansions so common in today’s subdivisions.
It did have some features today’s houses don’t have.
You may have noticed in the caption for the house, “separate kitchen off to the side.” This was a thing back then for the more well off. They made houses mostly of wood, and kitchen stoves were open fireplaces. This was an accident waiting to happen. A separate building for the kitchen isolated the risk to the owner’s valuables, and also isolated the house from heat and smoke produced by open hearth cooking.
Most likely, the kitchen was staffed by a female slave and also doubled as slave quarters.
They also had a larger refrigerator than we find today.
Alexander was fortunate to have any cooling systems. For him, it was an additional outbuilding with a spring running through it, which it does to this day. The spring water runs about 55 degrees F year-round, and items that needed cooling were placed in containers that were themselves placed in the spring.
This room served as his study, office, and meeting room for those admitted beyond the foyer.
Typical kitchen setting for the era. It’s likely Hezekiah’s table was larger – he had 10 kids.
Back in the day, folks needed to spin their own thread and weave their own cloth. Clothing was custom sewed, either by someone in house or a local tailor.
They stuffed mattresses with straw and suspended them on a cross-hatching of rope.
In time, the rope would stretch and the bed would sag. They’d use these tools to firm up the bed: they’d torque the rope, and hammer the pin into the hole the tightened rope passed through. Then they’d move on and tighten the next section.
And yes, there were bugs. Itch yet?
Toys were simple and hand made, mostly of wood.
School materials were simple too.
Look closely. (Click on photo for a larger view.) Note the spelling of “trefpaffes”. If you look even more closely at the lower case alphabet at the top, you’ll notice an extra ‘f’ looking letter next to the ‘s’. It’s not an ‘f’, and they didn’t have have a strange pronunciation for it. It’s a long ‘s’.
I’ll leave the explanation to the Wiki link. Let’s just say it’s convoluted, and it began to be phased out in the late 1700s by typesetters looking to simplify things.
Let’s get back to Hezekiah Alexander and that declaration, shall we?
He was involved a declaration of sorts; formally, the Mecklenburg Resolves. These resolves were created by the Mecklenburg County Committee of Safety on or after May 20, 1775 and adopted on May 31, 1775. This followed on the heels of the Battle of Lexington and Concord, which is considered the beginning of the Revolutionary War. Hezekiah was a key member of the Mecklenburg committee. See this link for more background on Hezekiah.
The Resolves declared British laws and commissions void and legislative and executive powers to be controlled by the colonies, but stopped short of declaring America free and independent from the Crown. This predated the Continental Congress’ Declaration of Independence by a year. The Continental Congress, or at least its North Carolina members would have had access to the Mecklenburg Resolves. The Resolves were posted in regional newspapers, and the royal governor wrote England that these were the most “treasonable publications” that “this continent have yet produced.”
Apparently, other communities had their own resolves as well, but perhaps not as bluntly independent as the Mecklenburg version.
Independent cusses were common. The British didn’t do themselves any favors by taxing the colonies without giving them representation in Parliament. Those taxes, along with the Brits’ decision to replace higher up elected Colonial officials with appointed British officials went too far. I’ve read the British were taxing their own people even higher, so they probably didn’t think it was onerous. They had an empire to run, and it was expensive.
Of course, some folks were just naturally cantankerous, refusing any tax or any authority over their local beliefs.
Maybe things haven’t changed that much…