Colonial and Post-Revolution Life in Our Area
People began moving into our area long before there was a town of Aiken. They came to trade with the Native Americans, or they just wanted to start a new life away from the restrictions and persecutions of their homeland. Life in this back country was very much different from our own life today. As you read through this program imagine how you might do the things you do today using only what was available to you in that time.
Ergle Log Cabin
In the year 1808 Thomas Jefferson was our President, Lewis and Clark were exploring the west and Frederick Ergle was building his cabin on the banks of the South Edisto River in what was to become Aiken County. Mr. Ergle raised his eleven children in this house and today it remains the oldest cabin in the county. (The Ergle cabin now sits on the grounds of the Aiken County Historical Museum.)
Most cabins were small compared to our houses today. The whole family cooked, ate, slept and worked in one room. No electricity or running water in this house. Where would you: cook, sleep, bathe or use the toilet?
Spring House and Buttery
Foods, such as milk, cream, butter and fresh vegetables and meats ready for the kitchen were kept in a spring house or buttery. A spring house was built over the head of a natural spring where water bubbles up from deep in the ground. This water is much cooler than the air and food kept in a spring house stays fresh for a longer time than food stored in the hot cabin. A buttery is a stone structure built deep into the side of a hill which keeps the inside temperature much cooler than the outside. What do we use to keep food fresh today? (The founder of the Graniteville Mill and Graniteville was Mr. William Gregg. His Buttery was preserved and moved the Museum Grounds.)
Meat was kept from spoiling by either drying small strips of it in the sun, like jerky, or curing and smoking it in a smokehouse. Large pieces of meat were soaked in a brine or salted water for a length of time then hung from the rafters of this small house under which a smoky fire was kept burning. Hams, bacon and sausages processed this way kept very well for a year or more.
Most root cellars were rooms dug into the earth beneath the house. Root vegetables such as beets, carrots, turnips and potatoes were stored in this cool space covered with straw or sand.
Almost anywhere there was running water you could find a grist mill. These mills ground the corn and wheat grown by local farmers into meal and flour which was used to make bread. The running water was needed to power the water wheel which turned the mill stones that did the grinding. (The Museum houses the workings of the Anderson Grist Mill in its Agricultural Exhibit.)
With the invention of the cotton gin in the late 1700’s cotton became the most important “cash crop” in the south. This little box did the work of four or five people by removing the seeds from the cotton very quickly. This cotton was used to make cloth and yarn for clothing on the farm and the excess was sold for cash. Large farms called plantations began growing thousands of acres of cotton using slave labor.
The fibers of cotton, flax and wool were spun or twisted into yarn to be woven into cloth or knitted into sweaters, shawls, caps and gloves. Mothers taught their daughters how to spin, weave and knit so they could make clothing for their own families one day. (The Museum has two spinning wheels on display.)
Making cloth took a long time. Fibers were spun into yarn then woven into fabric on a loom. George Washington encouraged all women and girls to learn to spin and weave so that our new nation would not be dependent upon England for cloth. (The Museum has two working looms that are used to weave rag rugs for sale in our store.)