Independent Cusses

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.

Think again.


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.

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Hezekiah Alexander’s house, with a separate kitchen off to the side.

So who’s this Hezekiah Alexander dude, and what does he have to do with the Declaration of Independence?

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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.

Sort of.

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.

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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.

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This room served as his study, office, and meeting room for those admitted beyond the foyer.

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Typical kitchen setting for the era.  It’s likely Hezekiah’s table was larger – he had 10 kids.

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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.

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They stuffed mattresses with straw and suspended them on a cross-hatching of rope.

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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?

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Toys were simple and hand made, mostly of wood.

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School materials were simple too.

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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…

37 thoughts on “Independent Cusses

    1. Compared to houses built recently, at least in the US, the rooms are smaller. Compared to houses built 50 plus years ago they’re more comparable. It’s strange, people used to have smaller houses and bigger families; you’d think with families getting smaller the houses wouldn’t be getting bigger. Maybe it’s just the egos getting bigger….

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Do you know what tickled me most about your photos from inside the house? At least five of those toys were a part of my childhood. They’re the slate, the ring toss, the top, the little dude at the end of the stick who dances, and the wooden ball attached by a string to the wooden peg designed to “catch” it. Maybe I should go check my birth certificate.

    Hezekiah Alexander was new to me, as were the Mecklenberg resolves. Somewhere along the line someone no doubt encouraged me to pay attention to them, but all those events a year later have had better press agents.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Gay Julian

    What a beautiful stone house and interesting history.
    Then when you declared independence and cancelled the British convicts, enter Australia as the replacement destination! Our existence pivots on such random events.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Weird how that works out, isn’t it? One thing I didn’t include in this piece was that Alexander was an elder in his church, and their minister was notorious for his level of independence. He didn’t think he should be subject to any authority outside his own religious sect’s leaders, and even not some of them. Maybe some of that orneriness rubbed off on Hezekiah…

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  3. Interesting history, Dave. My favorite part of the house was the spring, which I assume was quite an asset at the time.
    Trying to read and comprehend the language of the tine is always fun, and can be a little challenging. I have copies of 50 documents (mainly legal) from my father’s side of the family from during and before the Revolutionary War. Some fun figuring out what they say. –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s pretty hard trying to figure out legal documents in the current era too. 🙄 Sorry about the blurriness of the spring house shot. I was shooting hand held, from slow to very slow on all the indoor shots. The spring house shot was about a half second.

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  4. I love looking through history museums that include houses, so we can see how they used to live, so you know I loved the photos in this post. Thanks for introducing us to Hezekiah Alexander, too…I hadn’t heard of him before.

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    1. I thought having a separate building for cooking was an interesting twist. Of course, you’d have to be wealthy to afford an outbuilding just for cooking, storage, and staff. I image the average Joe didn’t have that perk.

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  5. An interesting post – – looks like a great old house, I love colonial-era stuff. It would look right at home in eastern Pennsylvania, or I guess the Hudson Valley. I wonder if anyone ever expanded on that springhouse idea, to cool the whole house, like the geothermal heat pumps they use nowadays. I know Thomas Jefferson put in a little stone-lined tunnel, going up the hill and into Monticello, to get some cool air coming in by convection, but I don’t know if anybody tried using spring water.

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  6. Beautiful house from the outside, I do love the stone construction work. And of course in those days the walls were really thick, compared with walls constructed today. Different story. Love the way that items were kept cold, that’s pretty smart and very environmentally friendly. The toys made of wood and so simple are such a jolt back to simpler times. Think about what kids play with today, and how technology has infused most childhoods from a very young age. Ahhh, the good ole days!

    Peta

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  7. Fascinating history and a look back into life in olden days. The 1st mattress/bed photo – is that an adult or child size bed? I saw beds in old castles in France, and they were considerably smaller than today’s standards.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Beautiful house – I love the stonework. Someday if like to visit some of those places. I was a history major – I studied it but I’ve seen very little of it!
    In Phoenix, homes built in the 1940s are considered historical.

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  9. I love those old houses and find that the way folks made do to be inspiring. There was no Home Depot or similar places to get materials. It was hard work. Folks today work hard also but there are conveniences to make it a bit easier.
    That was a great tour, Dave. Very enjoyable to see the artifacts of a time gone by. As a former antique restorer it was fun to see some of the furniture too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The conveniences can make things easier and faster. People do still work hard, but some just want the conveniences and want someone else to do the hard stuff. I would imagine as an antique restorer the old styles would be of interest – and maybe the old tools as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Britains didn’t do themselves much good for the long run, indeed, but so has every empire or ruler throughout times, simply because they don’t think anyone will be able to take them on. And of course they are always wrong. Nobody seems to learn, as history repeats itself these days… Thanks for an interesting post. I didn’t even know about Hezekiah Alexander.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I doubt anyone had heard of Alexander outside the Charlotte area. As for the politics, it does make me wonder sometimes if there’s intelligent life on earth. It seems like all to much is decided by greed, power games, and fear rather than rational, thought through solutions.

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