Too Busy for Cabin Fever

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The Old Damm Garrison House, Dover, New Hampshire, built in 1653

My earliest American ancestors arrived in 1633 at Dover Point. Imagine yourself going out into several hundred acres of pine trees with nary a house, let alone a village. The first order of business would have been to erect a log meeting house similar to the one pictured above on its original site. Here the settlers made their home while clearing the timber and rocky fields for a village of log houses and the beginnings of an agrarian society.

A garrison house would be enclosed within a large yard surrounded by a high stockade of logs planted upright into the ground. This particular garrison — built by my ancestor Deacon John Damm, is 40 feet long and 20 feet wide, with walls six inches thick, hewn out of oak. Judging from the architecture of the windows, I think they were added later. Not visible in the photo are musket slots as the garrisons were fortified against Indian attack. However, in those early decades, the number of English settlers were too small to pose a threat to the native people.

The men were well educated and skilled in the various trades that prevailed in their old homes. Other than clergy and a few lawyers, the settlers were farmers. They learned from the Indians how to “fish the fields” by laying down perch, alewife, smelt and eel to fertilize and replenish the land every three years. Rye, buckwheat, barley and Indian corn were raised along with turnips, beans, pumpkins and peas. However, the geography limited farms to single family production. Many New Englanders ultimately became renowned fishermen, shipbuilders, merchants and sailors celebrated in later American literature.

Women’s work in the household was made difficult and exhausting in these primitive colonial conditions. In addition to bearing children, cleaning, and cooking, the goodwife made clothing, gave comfort, and administered aid to family illnesses. They made household goods to use and sell, took care of their animals, maintained the fire and tended to the kitchen gardens — too busy to be affected by the modern concept of cabin fever.

Not until King William’s War (1689-1697) did the native Algonquians of New Hampshire attack settlements in Dover and Oyster River (later renamed Durham). They burnt log houses, killed more than 20 settlers in each uprising (including my ancestor Deacon John Damm in 1690), and dragged many others away as captives. In retaliation, the settlers became just as vicious: they burnt native crops and villages and offered bounties on scalps. Eventually, the native populations left the area.

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In this close up view, note the musket holes

Now housed within the Woodmen of the World museum in Dover, New Hampshire, “this well preserved structure provides a unique window to our past and displays a collection of over 800 items which illustrate area history. Notable among the many utensils, furniture and tools are iron fireplace cooking utensils, a tavern table, several cradles—including a rare cradle for twins, rope beds and looms” [].

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The working kitchen much as it would have appeared in my ancestor’s day

Life in Color ~ January has begun a new monthly photo challenge, beginning with BROWN for January.

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I don’t of January as a dull brown but more of a grey mist, as in the Pacific Northwest . . .

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. . . if not bright snow on a clear day, as in the Cascade foothills.

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However, January’s color challenge is brown. So be it.

My mother’s living room sofa was brown all during my growing up years. One day she contracted with someone to make a slip cover — in brown! She used to say it’s a good basic color, especially for pine walls.

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I vowed to myself I would NEVER own such a thing. Today my library sofa is BROWN. Well, it was on sale and was the right style and price, so we bought it. It IS a good basic color for a library. I soften the effect with an assortment of pillows and a blue quilt over the back.

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Christmas Eve Chowders

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Early in our 50-year marriage, I latched onto the idea of Clam Chowder for Christmas Eve supper. I think I had read about in a book one day and decided to try it, along with a loaf of Challah (Jewish braided bread) and a glass of crisp Chardonnay or Riesling. Every year since, we’ve made a pot of some sort of seafood chowder or soup.

In the beginning we opened a couple of cans of Campbell’s and slowly heated the chunky soup version. That was in pre-Bon Appetit days. Over time, I began to experiment by adding chopped herbs harvested from my garden in the fall, extra sauteed chopped onion, a dollop of a white wine. Not bad, but . . .

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. . . it lacked a certain something.

One year Hubby and I tried a recipe of Lobster Corn Chowder from that year’s Bon Appetit magazine. The process took hours but turned out well worth the effort, and it actually tasted better, reheated, two days later. That became our Christmas Eve Supper staple for several years until we couldn’t get fresh lobster meat from the deli.

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Seafood Gumbo is a heartier version, an African contribution to the Louisiana cuisine. It begins with a dark roux — slowly browned flour and bacon fat — and includes okra and tomatoes, both crawfish and shrimp, and not only herbs but also cayenne pepper, often served over rice.

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But in my mother’s childhood home in Apalachicola, Florida, Oyster Stew was the favorite. She used to tell Depression-era stories of meeting the oyster boats in the rain at the dock. To excavate the cold slippery meat, she had to clutch the mollusk at just the right moment before it clamped tight against her prying fingers. Then she doused the oyster with lemon juice, a dab of Tabasco, and slapped it between two saltines. That was breakfast.

Her papa would haul home a gunny sack filled with oysters, dump them into the sink, shower with cool water, then wait for the shells to open up for air. These briny, fresh-from-the-bay oysters were perfect for sauteing in butter with onions sprinkled with black pepper, and steaming in canned evaporated milk to make into oyster stew.

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This year, we plan to keep it simple by doctoring up a can of Campbell’s Chunky New England Clam Chowder, beginning with frying up some bacon, then sauteeing chopped onions and celery in the bacon grease, adding pieces of Alaskan cod fresh from the market, some herbs — and that final dollop of Riesling.



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Castle Ruins in Snowdonia, Gwynedd, Wales

Last week I wrote about being “mad about plaid.” Particularly, tartan plaid. Is there a pattern representing anyone in my family ancestry line? I searched online among the Scots clan history for Maddox, my maternal grandmother’s maiden name, because I’d always assumed her people came from Scotland. Turns out, they didn’t. They were Welsh, dating as far back as the 1200s. And, indeed, there is a Maddox tartan but it didn’t even exist in my grandmother’s day.

The Welsh surname Maddox is derived from the early Welsh personal name Madoc, also written as Madawc and Madog, from the Old Welsh name Matoc, meaning goodly. And so was my grandmother, beautiful and compassionate and goodly.

The first Welsh tartan on record is the Welsh National Tartan designed in 1967 by D. M. Richards, using the colors green, red, and white from the national flag. According to Thomas Murray in an article on Welsh tartans [], “the Green Welsh Tartan owes its origin to a Society formed in Cardiff in 1967. Its aims were cultural and political – to strengthen Celtic ties . . . in culture, language, and dress.”

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In Scotland, on the other hand, one of the earliest references to the wearing of tartans was by the treasurer of James III, in 1471. He purchased a length of cloth for the king and his queen. In 1538, James V (the father of Mary, Queen of Scots) wore tartan while hunting in the Highlands. Charles II wore a ribbon of tartan at his marriage to Catherine de Braganza in 1662.

Following the Battle of Culloden in 1746, the victorious English tried to crush the rebellious clan system, and wearing tartan became a penal offence. The Highlanders subsequently lost their enthusiasm and simply wore the same type of dress as other Scots. Many, if not most, of the original plaid patterns were lost.

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Then came a “great tartan revival” when George IV visited Edinburg. He suggested that those attending official functions should wear their respective tartans as patterns were recalled or reinvented by the tailors of that day.

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Photo: Kenneth Grant. Scotland Forever

In the 20th century, tartans gained international popularity with people selecting and sporting a design based on their own whims (except for the Royal Tartan reserved for the exclusive use of the British royal family).

Thus, the so-called Welsh tartan in only the last century or so were created to celebrate and commemorate the Welsh tradition. Their patterns were designed to differ slightly from Scotland’s in the warp (horizontal lines) and weft (vertical lines), thus appearing more rectangular or striped. Scots tartans appear more as a square box.

As I searched for such a pattern assigned to my grandmother’s family name of Maddox, I found one registered to the ancient name of Madog/Maddock, translated Maddox.


The name, if not the tartan itself, is steeped in 13th-century Welsh history; namely, the House of Gwynedd. Madog ap Llywelyn ap Maredudd led the Welsh revolt of 1294-1295 against English rule.

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Stone memorial to Madog ap Llywelyn in the south wall at All Saints’ Church, Gresford, Wales. He died in 1331. A Welsh document describes him as “the best man that ever was in Maelor Gymraeg”.

He was a distant relation of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, the last recognized native Prince of Wales.

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Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, last recognized native Prince of Wales

If these, indeed, are my Maddox ancestors, a 400-year gap separates them from the earliest known Maddox families who helped settle the American Colonies in Virginia and, subsequently, Georgia. My line descends from the Georgian Maddox connection. Earlier history is mired somewhere in ancient Welsh legend, requiring far more research than I’ve found so far.

My grandmother, I’m sure, would have liked the relatively modern tartan, a soft blue to match her eyes. Now that I have found a source in Wales, I shall order a yard of the wool fabric to wear proudly as a loose shawl.

Incidentally, in popular culture, the plot of The Bastard Executioner was an American television mini-series set in northern Wales during a time rife with political upheavals. The blood-soaked medieval epic partially involved the fallout from the real-life Welsh rebellion led by Madog ap Llywelyn against English rule. Bastard . . . was cancelled after only one season. [


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Yesterday we had our first fire of the season. I really craved that fall ambience. I missed the days of sitting there in my wing chair, reading a good book, with with a plaid lap blanket on my knees, my spaniel Bonnie Prince Charlie lying at my feet. Fortunately, Hubby already had cleaned the firebox and laid a new fire months ago, and now I had only to strike the match and settle down.

As cold weather settles in like frozen fog, I’ve gone quite mad about plaid. I spread a Steward plaid blanket across the back of the library sofa. If I go outside I wear various plaid gloves and mufflers around my neck, mostly a Black Watch. Mail order and online sources offer pandemic masks in various plaids, too, although I don’t think I’ll go quite that far.

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This time of year I like to lay the dining table with a plaid.

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When did this madness begin? I grew up wearing Steward-patterned skirts with red sweaters. American manufacturers had long appropriated Scottish tartans from textiles to children’s school lunch boxes. My own lunch box was the ubiquitous red Steward plaid with a matching thermos. Remember those? They were classier than Mickey Mouse and the Hulk.

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According to archeologists, the origin of plaids or tartans originated as far back as the 8th century B.C.E. (Before the Common Era) in Central Asia. A mummified body was found in well-preserved textiles in a very familiar pattern. He wore “a twill tunic and tartan leggings.” Surprising, isn’t it?

The Word “plaid” came from the Gaelic term “plaide” which means a blanket tied over Scottish Highland sheep in winter.


The “Tartan” pattern of alternating bands woven at right angles “refers to very specific types of Celtic plaids (differentiated by certain colors and patterns) that are imbued with meaning and history. Many weavers had limited resources available to them: for example, color palettes were determined by which plants were available from which to make dyes. Styles varied geographically throughout Scotland, Ireland, and Wales.

Tartans were often used in clothing as signifiers of various clans and regions.”

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The tartan shifted from Scottish family symbol to military uniform with the Jacobite uprisings against the English monarchy, beginning in 1715. When marching in support of Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Scotland’s Bonnie Prince Charlie) during the Scottish Rebellion of 1745, for example, The Royal Highland Regiment wore Black Watch, a pattern unaffiliated with any specific family or clan. The green and dark blue patterns became strongly associated with rebellion. Thus, plaid was banned for almost a century in Britain during the 1700s.

Oops! I’m wearing my Black Watch velveteen jeans with matching flats as I write this blog. Fortunately, neither this rebellion nor the restricted use and wearing of Tartans are applicable to our modern culture, especially in Amerca. I’ll keep on wearing that plaid, if you don’t mind.

Actually, I can lay claim to a clan, or family, tartan representing my maternal grandmother’s Welsh ancestry. Watch for this family history research story next week: “The Maddox Tartan.”

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