Massive Myths of a Previous Thread

Muzzleloading Forum

Help Support Muzzleloading Forum:

Loyalist Dave

Cannon
Staff member
Moderator
MLF Supporter
Joined
Nov 22, 2011
Messages
13,899
Reaction score
9,674
Location
People's Republic of Maryland
I have to disagree with you on a couple of points.
There were so many variables in the time period we are discussing that it is almost impossible to make many broad assumptions about the cleanliness of people’s bodies or clothes.
Some people almost never washed anything, some did it more often, as the availability of water, soap, time, and temperatures allowed.
You mean, as with today?
Nobody is making any "assumptions" broad or otherwise. I never wrote nor asserted that "everybody did this everywhere".

My objection was to the "myth" that "people didn't bathe", which has been recounted time and time again, from when I was in grade school, and is encountered even today. The assumption was no bathtub = no "bathing", well that's true if you define it strictly as immersion in hot water with soap.

Some people working away from home (if they had one) might not do any kind of bath or rag-washing for a month or more; but when back at home, might do at least a rag washing every day or so - same for their clothing.
For the small percentage that lived on or near the dangerous edges of the frontier, doing personal hygiene stuff could get you killed. Collecting extra firewood or water, bathing in a stream, having most or all of your clothes off all at once made people much more vulnerable in an attack. The increased risk of pneumonia or bronchitis in very cold weather before the advent of pharmaceutical drugs needs no explanation.
So, first, you make the assumption that "washing" has to be with warm/hot water. Nobody has asserted that. Nobody has suggested full nakedness when washing either, and nobody is suggesting full body washing each and every day. Even today, the areas that need addressing for folks in combat areas are the crotch, groin, hands and feet. At least that was the practice when I was in the infantry.

Lack of personal hygiene can also get you killed. For the person living in a relatively stationary spot, that person builds immunity to the local bacteria, but for those "living away from home", they are encountering new bacteria because of their new geography. There are no topical disinfectants, no antibiotics as you point out, so a scratch or a boil, or an abscess could mean death by infection, if not impaired ability, so death by misadventure. Washing would also be less necessary when the body is less inclined to perspire, in the cold months.

Oh and the cold or wet hair doesn't cause pneumonia, and while cold air can exacerbate chronic bronchitis, it doesn't contribute to catching the organisms that cause bronchitis. At least that's what the doctors write.

It was the geographic bacterial changes that lead to both soldiers, and the local populations, suffering casualties from disease when an army moved through an area, bringing in new bacteria and viruses, and being exposed to new bacteria and viruses. The same would be true for an individual moving through areas. Greater risk of exposure to a bug they can't handle.

As for the use of perfume to cover up body odors, some wealthier people did use it for that purpose, just as some do now, with men using deodorant and cologne.
I have a suspicion that the heavy, voluminous, multi-layered clothing styles of the European upper classes were as much for containing body odor as for style and warmth. Particularly for women in times before the availability of the variety of feminine hygiene products we have today.

Well as for "why" perfumes were used, we don't know if it was to cover body odor OR was it to demonstrate that the person had the money to be able to afford it? Was it simply to be appealing to the opposite sex? For if we are talking "just as some do now", most folks that use antiperspirant/deodorant have no need of an additional scent, yet they don perfume or cologne. Some of the folks that don a perfume/cologne don't use a deodorant or antiperspirant (or at least not enough), and that ain't covering much when they do

My perfume comment was again to that myth, that folks didn't bathe but they instead doused themselves with perfume. Neither of which is at all accurate. Right up there with "they used pepper to cover off flavors from tainted meat because they had no refrigeration"..., when if they could pepper, or the other imported spices, they could afford fresh meat.

LD
 
Last edited:

smoothshooter

50 Cal.
Joined
Nov 6, 2005
Messages
2,914
Reaction score
1,507
I know the feeling all too well, but unfortunately, I have to take more baths these days because I'm not that steady on my feet. I remember back in the day people would say the reason they didn't like bathtubs was because they were washing their face in the same water they washed their rear ends in. I guess you remember the water not being very warm by the time it was your turn?

True. You got that right!

From 1999 to 2001, between wives, I lived in a semi-run down cabin on the lake close to the MO/AR line that had no functioning bathtub drain. Stool worked ok, though.
I heated water on a kerosene heater at first, and later an electric stove.
For a shower I heated enough water to fill two 2 liter Pepsi jugs, went out on the back deck and used the first jug to wet down by pouring it over my head and lathering up with soap. The second one was the rinse jug. Dried off with towel and was done.
The bad part was doing it in the winter on cold days. Sometimes I had to stand barefooted on the icy or snowy deck to do the jug shower..
When it is between +35 and +10 degrees, an outside shower does not take very long!!
 
Joined
Jul 31, 2006
Messages
3,704
Reaction score
572
True. You got that right!

From 1999 to 2001, between wives, I lived in a semi-run down cabin on the lake close to the MO/AR line that had no functioning bathtub drain. Stool worked ok, though.
I heated water on a kerosene heater at first, and later an electric stove.
For a shower I heated enough water to fill two 2 liter Pepsi jugs, went out on the back deck and used the first jug to wet down by pouring it over my head and lathering up with soap. The second one was the rinse jug. Dried off with towel and was done.
The bad part was doing it in the winter on cold days. Sometimes I had to stand barefooted on the icy or snowy deck to do the jug shower..
When it is between +35 and +10 degrees, an outside shower does not take very long!!

A friend uses the two 2 liter soda bottles method to shower at camp. He added a sprinkler can head from the local garden supply. Leaves the filled bottles in the sun to warm them up.
 
Joined
Aug 17, 2022
Messages
950
Reaction score
1,796
Location
Virginia
True. You got that right!

From 1999 to 2001, between wives, I lived in a semi-run down cabin on the lake close to the MO/AR line that had no functioning bathtub drain. Stool worked ok, though.
I heated water on a kerosene heater at first, and later an electric stove.
For a shower I heated enough water to fill two 2 liter Pepsi jugs, went out on the back deck and used the first jug to wet down by pouring it over my head and lathering up with soap. The second one was the rinse jug. Dried off with towel and was done.
The bad part was doing it in the winter on cold days. Sometimes I had to stand barefooted on the icy or snowy deck to do the jug shower..
When it is between +35 and +10 degrees, an outside shower does not take very long!!
Two words my friend. Turkey fryer. That's experience talking.
 

nit wit

.69 Cal.
Staff member
Moderator
MLF Supporter
Joined
Jan 20, 2005
Messages
3,521
Reaction score
1,244
Location
Maine
Why ivory soap floats: a worker was not watching his machine and walked way for a bit. More stirring added more oxygen to the mix and that batch of soap floated.
Nit Wit
 

flntlokr

Bug Hunter
MLF Supporter
Joined
Aug 6, 2014
Messages
614
Reaction score
668
Location
Vancouver Island
Wetting it would soften it up a bit, but there’s the question of the water supply….!😜

My gun clubs ranges, trout pond and warming hut all set down hill from the clubs lodge house with its modern facilities, so a port-John is conveniently located next to the range. Last week the Monday after field day I had a powerful need of that porta-John, no TP,catalogs or cobs!😩😩😩😩😩




I always have a clean white handkerchief in my back pocket. Now I’ve added a partial roll of TP to my range kit.
I worked in the forest for many years. I made a habit of changing out the toilet rolls at home while there was about 1/8" left. I squished those flat and put one in a zip baggie, which always went to work with me. Much better than leaves, moss, or bark. Better still is a few squares of paper towel in the bag instead; rip in half for tp, use as is for towelling or wound dressing.
 
Joined
Jan 27, 2008
Messages
23,352
Reaction score
22,453
Location
Republic mo
Just a comment about life expediency.
Reading the novel Glorious Cause by Jeff Shaara, while he makes an attempt to be historically accurate he writing a novel for entertainment
However he did a brief post revolution bio on the characters of his book
Howe died at 85
Franklin and Knyphust each at 84
Rochambeau 82
Gates 78
Lafayette and Cornwallis 77
Robert Morris 73
Charles Graves 70
Washington 67
DeGrasse and Morgan 66
Clinton 65
Stuben 64
Charles O’Hare and light Horse Harry Lee 62
Arnold 60
Knox 56
Sullivan 55
Silas Dean 52
Alex Hamilton doesn’t count
Charles Lee and Mad Anthony Wayne 51
Green 44
Tilghman 42
So out of twenty three fourteen died before seventy, six below fifty. Three eighty plus vs two under fifty
 

Snake Pleskin

54 Cal.
Joined
Apr 22, 2022
Messages
1,913
Reaction score
2,284
Location
AIken, South Carolina
Good writeup and quite accurate. For modern day comparisons on cleanliness, I used to spend a few weeks at a time on the Appalachian Trail. I did fine with a daily birdbath using about a quart of water and was told I wasn't too offensive to be around.... Another perspective: There are a number of strict Amish folk who live in my area. A bath once a week with daily birdbaths is typical and clothes worn to town are always clean. There is some body odor, but nothing really bad.
You must have 'different" Amish then the ones that live across the "street" from my brother. Working all day in the sun, using horses etc, up to your knees in horse Sh and other "natural" fertilizers etc. You could smell an Amish guy a 100 yds away! Sponge baths did not do much when you are truly filthy! You would have to literally scrub yourslef all over quite well, and in the winter that was even more fun!
 

Snake Pleskin

54 Cal.
Joined
Apr 22, 2022
Messages
1,913
Reaction score
2,284
Location
AIken, South Carolina
True. You got that right!

From 1999 to 2001, between wives, I lived in a semi-run down cabin on the lake close to the MO/AR line that had no functioning bathtub drain. Stool worked ok, though.
I heated water on a kerosene heater at first, and later an electric stove.
For a shower I heated enough water to fill two 2 liter Pepsi jugs, went out on the back deck and used the first jug to wet down by pouring it over my head and lathering up with soap. The second one was the rinse jug. Dried off with towel and was done.
The bad part was doing it in the winter on cold days. Sometimes I had to stand barefooted on the icy or snowy deck to do the jug shower..
When it is between +35 and +10 degrees, an outside shower does not take very long!!
Military shower : three minutes wet, soap, rinse, done
 
Joined
Nov 11, 2022
Messages
8
Reaction score
18
Location
Arizona
I’m not so clever about the 18th century yet, but I can personally attest to the effectiveness of 19th century garment layering - for women, at least. I’ve got a modern dress that I’ve worn at least a dozen times over victorian foundations. I’m talking the whole shebang: stockings, muslin chemise, split cotton drawers, cotton corset, with not a single thread of plastic anywhere. The dress has never been washed and still smells like the factory it came from - it has to, it has never touched my skin. It stays comfortable in 100 degree heat, too; when it’s a hundred out, you’re obviously going to get hot, but the materials are breezy and wick sweat away and each layer of fabric is one more layer separating you from the sun.

18th century clothing for women and men follows the same principles. Your outer clothing hardly touches you, and your under clothing doesn’t seal anything off to fester - especially if you’re a woman, but even your covered armpits will be pretty breezy under the right textile. So your waistcoat or your bodice or whatever it is you’re wearing almost never has to be washed where your own bodily excretions are concerned. Soot and dirt are a different matter, but your clothing keeps all of that away from your skin and hair. Your linens, meanwhile, would have been washed weekly with hot water and bleach, and changed out daily; crisp white linens were a point of pride even for the working class. The textile itself is even antimicrobial, which is why linen is favored by hospitals; but even if your under layers are only cotton, it’s not a bad situation at all.

The notion that people in the past were too stupid to keep their clothing hygienic is definitely not really true. They were meeting different needs in ways that were perfectly practical, and sometimes still are. Their brains worked like our brains, and their noses did, too!
 
Joined
Jun 17, 2019
Messages
3,958
Reaction score
3,857
In a recent and ongoing thread some age old myths about colonial life surfaced. I confess I only read about a page, and had to pen this....


NO Bathing?
So we hear this a lot, and how people would douse themselves to the point of being self-marinated in perfume, because they didn't bathe. This is Balderdash upon Balderdash. They rarely conducted full immersion bathing in the home..., because it was a pain in the arse to heat all that water (especially in a quick manner) , and to maintain a vessel for the purpose aka a bathtub. (Ben Franklin was rich enough to own such BTW). Authors in the past for some unknown reason decided that since there was no bathtub in the home, and some sources mentioned "bathing" only once or twice a year, that meant that they didn't "wash" their bodies. They never bothered to look into the fact that when the old sources used the term "bathing" they mean full immersion, and not always in hot water. There is AMPLE evidence that folks performed washing of more than their face and hands on a regular basis. We would call this a "sponge bath". Franklin regularly aired his body in his rooms, calling the procedure an "air bath"... and today we know that a lot of the odor causing bacteria on the body is anaerobic (which is why the stinkiest of places on a person are the crevices on the skin where moisture doesn't evaporate, and are dark most of the time.

As for the perfume "dousing" that was simply another one of the "conclusions" of so called historians, who simply decided that since perfume existed, and bathtubs didn't then it must have been used to cover the stench. Of course it never occurs to these same "scholars" that such perfume was highly expensive. The same way that you hear how "pepper" was used to cover the taste of tainted meat so was desired by Europeans who had no refrigeration at that time in history... ignoring the fact that spices were SO expensive that IF you could afford pepper you darn well could afford fresh meat.... so wouldn't need the pepper.....

Washing of Clothing?
Folks, part of hygiene in the 18th century, in fact a major part, was in using clean clothing on a daily basis. So not only was washing with water and a cloth performed, but changing clothes on a regular basis was performed. Not to mention that a lot of clothing was also for protection, i.e. women wearing a head covering was fashion but kept their hair cleaner than not from soot and smoke and perspiration. A recent study was done where one man bathed as modern folks do and the other wore 18th century clothing and changed into something clean every day, sometimes changing twice a day. Results for the guy not "bathing" was only a slightly higher amount of personal bacteria and much akin to several European nations today in this century. This use of clothing wasn't a practice for just the "rich" or the "prosperous" either, as information on common folk on the "frontier" show a good quantity of clothing especially the clothing that was worn as undergarments. Further Proof? Folks, Castile Soap (hard, lye soap) was exported into Antwerp, Belgium in the 1560s. In the 1600's the Spanish purchased a monopoly on the stuff in Europe and then it later caused a problem in England as it was cheap enough to supplant the soft soap that the English were making and using. (Until widespread availability of hard [Castile] soap, all soap was "soft" ) . IF folks aren't using it to wash themselves.... what then? Clothing.

Further, the bathtub was commonly found in homes by the middle of the 19th century, but the first commercial deodorant, known as Mum, didn't appear until 1888. Zinc was discovered in 1746. Zinc Oxide was in wide use by 1850, and at the time it's active ingredient was zinc oxide. Mum is still made today btw, but has a different formula.

So folks weren't covered in filth and reeking during in the Colonial Period.

The Language was hard to Understand?
Um so here is some written text, text based on the spoken language of the period....,

"There do not frequently occur opportunities of obtaining a passage from Charlestown to Norfolk : the season was too far advance to admit of travelling on horseback through North-Carolina, and making in that state a sufficiently long stay to acquire good information. After having waited a week for a vessel to convey me to Virginia I had engaged a birth [berth] in a sloop, but my Charleston friends thought it too much encumbered with passengers to allow of my being conveniently accommodated on board..." from a journal of 1799

The subsistence of the men in Hospital must be thrown into a fund, for the benefit of the whole in general, and no particular account given to each man, in what manner his money has been expended ; for though the disorder of one may not require the consumption of his Pay, yet that of another may much more, when wine, rich broths, and things of that kind are absolutely necessary : Cuthbertson 1776

Going back a little more than a century, we can still read and understand this recipe

Take a Pottle of Cream, and boil in it a little whole Cinnamon, and three or four flakes of Mace. To this proportion of Cream, put in eighteen yolks of Eggs, and eight of the whites ; a pint of Sack [sweet sherry] ; beat your eggs very well, and then mingle them with your Sack. Put in three quarters of a pound of sugar into the Wine and Eggs with a Nutmeg grated, and a little beaten Cinnamon ; set the basin on the fire with the wine and eggs and let it be hot. Then put in the Cream boyling from the fire ; pour in on high, but stir it not ; cover it with a dish, and when it is settled, strew on the top a little fine Sugar mingled with three grains of Ambergreece, and one grain of Musk, and serve it up. Sir Kenelm Digby 1669

Now yes, there were no established norms in spelling, the font of the printing of the time at first reading may be tough but regular reading and it becomes easy, and the further back one goes one gets some interesting phrasing, not to mention some accents and other dialects were found, but the majority of the people who were British subjects could and did speak English similar to what we would speak today. It's not Shakespeare and definitely not Chaucerian English.

Life expectancy

Compared to today, where we have childhood vaccines, antibiotics, antivirals, anesthetics, and chemotherapy (not just for cancer btw), the medicine of the 18th century sucked. BUT folks confuse "average life expectancy" stats with survival expectancy. The reason the life expectancy was low in the 18th century was childhood mortality due to a lack of pre-natal care and vaccines, which skews the average downwards. IF you survived past about 5 years of age..., you were likely to live to be old age, if you avoided a war zone. And "avoiding a war zone" doesn't mean being involved in the fighting but avoiding being exposed to bacteria and viruses cheerfully brought to your village by a moving army, even your own country's army. In New England in the 17th Century, it became common for people to know their grandparents, and by the 18th century, people in Britain were living to between 50 and 65, BUT people in the English Colonies in America were living on average as much as 20 years more, to 65-70, and it was not unheard of to live into one's 80's.

LD
Yes, but Franklin was considered "odd" for bathing so much. You've done your homework!
We used old sears and roebuck catalogs and old telephone books.
Those have no absorption properties; leaving lots of "gunk"! Eccch.
 

Eutycus

70 Cal.
Joined
Nov 11, 2018
Messages
4,947
Reaction score
3,284
Location
South Texas
The old saying about "throwing the baby out with the bathwater" supposedly came from infants were given a bath in the same gunky water that the whole household used in it's annual bath.The same bath water was used from the man of the house down the youngest infant. A small child could have been lost in the yucky/murky water.
 
Last edited:
Top