Sanitation and cleanliness in the 18th Century...

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sooter76

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This probably doesn't belong here, but I can't see another sub-forum where it would be better suited...

So I got sent a link to a news clip about an, admittedly interesting, story about some yuppies who decided to leave the modern world behind and live in the forests of North Carolina. The problem from what I saw is that they're playing at a simpler life but can't really live without the modern world... It was obvious from how they talked about their lattes and how much modern amenities they had with them. In the end they were a bunch of yuppies living in filth and shacks like what you'd see in a Brazilian favela and romanticizing it. follow the link for the video...
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5yh0j6zMWCI

It made me think of my grandparents house... Now granted my grandparents had running water and electricity, but it was a little farm house out in the middle of nowhere on the edge of a thick wood that Grandpa built himself. Grandma would can fruit and vegetables that they grew themselves, Grandpa would hunt. Bottom line is, despite them living semi-disconnected from the rest of the world, they still kept the place up and clean.I know it's not the same thing, but still.

Now on to my question... I admittedly know little about the cleanliness on homesteads in the 18th Century but I always got the impression that like much else that 'we know', they weren't anywhere as dirty as is so often portrayed. I know that people living in towns and cities in the 18th Century lived both more and less clean/sanitary lives than those living on the edge of the wilderness or a farmstead depending on specifically what we're talking about, but what would it have actually looked like? In terms of cleanliness what would a homestead have actually looked like, especially in comparison to what is seen in the video?
 
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coloradoclyde

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The video reminds me of many of today's reality shows....FAKE and scripted. I operate on the assumption that everything I see on TV is fake....I have never been wrong yet...

I just skimmed through the video but one scene stood out to me....The Maggot infested bear skull in a bucket. I asked myself, "is this something I would do if I were "homesteading" or living a self sufficient lifestyle"?
What value does a trophy serve in such a situation?..
It illustrates a connection to a modern lifestyle, one of vanity and affluence.
 

Elnathan

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I suspect that crafts they make out of bear bones are intended for sale.

Hard to tell just how dirty they really are from the video, honestly. Lot of clutter, but that is kind of typical for small dwellings in which a lot of stuff has to be crammed. The outside looks like a mess, but that is not uncommon around here and I suspect that it is more a matter of aesthetics than sanitation per se.

Some stuff, like hide tanning and blacksmithing, is just dirty and can't be made otherwise. Do that stuff outside, and away from food prep, etc.

I doubt I'd get along with those folks, but given the limitations of the lifestyle I'm not ready to condemn them yet.

I'm pretty certain the pioneers weren't clean by modern standards. It might be worth remembering, though, that they considered the Indians "an exceedingly filthy people" (As James Smith, no Indian-hater, put it) because the Indians never washed their clothes and didn't wash foodstuffs, whereas (according to pop culture anyhow) the Indians did wash their bodies much more frequently than did the whites. So it is possible that they were very concerned about some things but not about others.
 

Loyalist Dave

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First, the video was produced by NBC, and they produce N othing B ut C rap....,

Second, the guy "Todd" said, "We don't have policies and we don't have rules." AH well perhaps he meant written rules, but ALL human societies have RULES. Sometimes folks call them customs, but if there are acceptable standards for social interaction, then DUH there are rules. For example I doubt I could harm his woman or his child without his reacting to stop me, nor could I force my way into his dwelling to take what I wished without retribution. [no rules, really?]

Third, Todd may be living out in the boonies, but he's surrounded by the modern world, and is still taking a big chance by drinking straight from any stream. He might have what he considers a safe spring in one locations, but other than that location, he's asking for trouble. Heck even back before industrialization, a dead animal carcass in the babbling brook coming from the spring, upstream from you, could mean real problems for the drinker.

I read a study where they practiced the cleanliness customs of the 18th century..., changed and laundered clothes often. They found that they were a little less "clean" than we are today. One misunderstanding...., they didn't take baths, meaning full immersion in hot water very often, but they did use water on rags to wash, as well as using soap on their clothing. It's this misunderstanding about bathing that has confused school teachers teaching about The Colonial Era for decades. I've seen references to early 20th century "bathing" being done on Saturday night, whether the folks needed it or not. :shocked2:

Cities tended to be filthier than country communities because of poor sanitation. Thus as the image that Clyde posted, you had outbreaks of Cholera, and food handling procedures of today were not known, so there was risk of food poisoning to travelers, but again a villager who didn't travel very far probably had developed immunity to local bacteria.

FYI the British military wanted all the men's food boiled, except for the baking of bread as they knew the men were healthier that way...(probably shielded the men who by the nature of their profession were moving into areas with new bacteria, since the boiling would sanitize the food.)

LD
 

tenngun

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Spot on. The living in filth thing is a myth. While they did not know about germs they knew cause and effect, and the value of clean.
Any raw food was thought to be a danger,all water sources were feared. Small beer coffee tea buttermilk were preferred drinks. People ”˜spit bathed’ daily and clothing was laundered andbrushed regularly.
They knew dirty dishes equaled sick eaters, dirty crocks equaled bad beer and the best way to commit suicide was to tell some one he stank.
Washington scratched off a request for bath tubs for his army saying the creeks will serve in just a few months, but he made sure his men had soap. And valuable space that could have been taken up by whisky on the pack trains to rendezvous was instead given over to soap.
 

Elnathan

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Loyalist Dave said:
I read a study where they practiced the cleanliness customs of the 18th century..., changed and laundered clothes often. They found that they were a little less "clean" than we are today. One misunderstanding...., they didn't take baths, meaning full immersion in hot water very often, but they did use water on rags to wash, as well as using soap on their clothing. It's this misunderstanding about bathing that has confused school teachers teaching about The Colonial Era for decades. I've seen references to early 20th century "bathing" being done on Saturday night, whether the folks needed it or not. :shocked2:
Do happen to remember name, etc., of the study? The conclusions are pretty much what I would expect, given the realities of human physiology, but it would be nice to have it written down.
 

NMPlainsman

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This isn't 19th Century but I had an Uncle that started the X - X ranch south of Ft. Sumner on the Pecos River in 1884. The modest adobe house still barely stands. He had piped water into the house from a spring and added a complete bathroom on the end of an enclosed porch.
He had become a wealthy man by being a New Mexico surveyor in the 1870s.

My Grandfather homesteaded ten miles west of him in 1912 and he piped water into the house from eclipse windmill filled rock storage tanks, building a complete bathroom on the end of an enclosed porch.

Since this was "the out house era", I would suspect that an indoor bathroom in the west was looked upon as a huge improvement but at the same time it appears that they still couldn't quite bring them selves to make the "indoor out house" completely indoors.

Grandmother was raised at the X-X and she lost a brother due to a bad can of peaches.

"They" say that the average rainfall in my area is close to 13" a year. I'm not too certain about that. :haha:
There were a tremendous amount of homesteaders in my area and in looking at what remains, many lived in dug outs, dug cisterns that caught water off of the ground and hauled water from what few wells, springs and dirt tanks existed at the time in barrels.

It would have been a very hard (and I'd think dirty) life and it is amazing to me that most "proved up".

Billy
 

coloradoclyde

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Seems I recall soap being mentioned as both a military ration and as a fur trade item.... :hmm:
 

tenngun

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Yup when we think about rendezvous we think powder lead beads, guns ,knifes, whisky and blankets. When it was chocolate,tea ,raisins ,soap coffee. Those boys enjoyed their treats and the soap made this Indian princesses friendlier.
 

Vaino

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My Gparent's survival farm in northern Minnesota was my summertime "vacation spot" and was a mile and a half from the blacktop and had no electric. It had a spacious outhouse and the only modern convenience was the smoke sauna which was stoked up twice a week and did a good job keeping everybody smelling nice.

Read where Eskimos had small families because of sparse food supplies and their form of birth control was never taking a bath.

There was a period of time in France when bathing was considered unhealthy so they invented perfume to cover up body odor....the French were always very resourceful.

To me it's surprising that we humans survived at all seeing early on, sanitary conditions were bad.....Fred
 

Elnathan

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Colorado Clyde said:
Seems I recall soap being mentioned as both a military ration and as a fur trade item.... :hmm:
IIRC, Mark Baker has noted that Castile soap was a very popular item with Morgan's hunters.
 

tenngun

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I gotta say I think the story of inventing perfume to cover up a dirty body is up there with the pepper was imported to cover up spoiled meat. Pepper sold for irs weight in gold, if you could afford pepper you could afford fresh meat. Deep down in the sent of perfumes are the smells of sex. Being around a perfumed person triggers a plesent feeling in the smeller. A person who could afford perfume could afford enough hot water to keep clean and wash clothing.
 

Jaeger

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I'm also a skeptic and a debunker of many things that I hear or read, and I think your logic here is correct.
 

Loyalist Dave

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I believe I saw it in a publication from Colonial Williamsburg. Here's an article on bathing from the CWF. Alas I cannot yet find the article where they used the clothing found in Colonial America and tested the results. :( There are several other articles online addressing the prevalent myth, which continues to be based on the misunderstanding that a lack of getting into a bathtub is NOT the same as no cleaning of the body at all beyond the face and hands. :shake:

LD
 

Cruzatte

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Loyalist Dave said:
I believe I saw it in a publication from Colonial Williamsburg. Here's an article on bathing from the CWF. Alas I cannot yet find the article where they used the clothing found in Colonial America and tested the results. :( There are several other articles online addressing the prevalent myth, which continues to be based on the misunderstanding that a lack of getting into a bathtub is NOT the same as no cleaning of the body at all beyond the face and hands. :shake:

LD
I've been reading this thread, and wondering why no one has mentioned the bucket, or sponge bath. (It may have been hinted at.) I don't have any documentation, but for something like this, (and such a personal matter) does one really need documentation?
 

Coot

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One doesn't need a tub to get clean. A "navy" shower uses little water (a major factor whether at sea or having to carry your water in buckets). I know one reenactor who washes using two , 2 liter bottles of warm water & a nozzle from a flower watering can. Mrs Coot always takes a pack of baby wipes to events. Re the historical record, Mrs Coot has found many probate records in Virginia that refer to "wash basons" (basins). Water, a container for it & a cloth can be used to clean face, hands & anywhere else.
 

Artificer

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First four weeks I was in Mogadishu, Somalia in the early 90's, we took "bucket baths." Wet a washcloth, soap it, scrub oneself down, take just enough water to wash off the soap and dirt. Not sure exactly how much water we used, but probably not more than a gallon or so. I also brought along some large "tubs" of unscented baby wipes to wash hands frequently.

Of course we didn't have the longer hair that was common in the 18th century, but I'm not sure how often they washed their hair?

Gus
 

coloradoclyde

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Of course we didn't have the longer hair that was common in the 18th century,
What long hair?...Washington, Jefferson and Franklin all had short hair. Long hair was probably less common than today. unless you were a woman....Maybe....
 

Cruzatte

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Colorado Clyde said:
Of course we didn't have the longer hair that was common in the 18th century,
What long hair?...Washington, Jefferson and Franklin all had short hair. Long hair was probably less common than today. unless you were a woman....Maybe....
Except Mr. Jefferson. He wore his very red hair long, and styled to look like it was a wig.
 
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