During colonial times, one of the most daunting tasks people faced was trying to stay warm during the cold winter months. Although cast iron wood stoves existed in colonial America, they were generally rare in many households. Settlers in upstate New Yorktypically heated their rooms with fireplaces that during the coldest winter months, at times would not even bring the room temperature above freezing. Warren Johnson, while visiting his brother Sir William Johnson at Johnson Hall in Johnstown, NY, wrote in his journal:
“December the 28th, 1760. it was so cold as to freeze almost anything even by the fire’s side: The frost is soe intense, that if you walk in leather shoes & gloves, you are frostbitten.”
“January 11, 1761. That strong Punch in 20 Minutes, is covered with a Scum of Ice, & Ink on a Table is frozen, before the fire.
“January 24-25, 1761. The weather soe cold that handling Brass, or Iron leaves A Blister on the fingers & in Bed People are cold even with ten blankets on.”
Therefore, it was important to have certain implements in the house to help them stay warm during winter. One of those items was a bed warmer. A bed warmer is a brass pan and lid attached to a long wooden handle. By filling the pan with hot embers and running the pan under the covers, colonials could warm up their beds before getting in. Another similar item was the foot warmer. A small box made of either brass, wood and tin or just wood with a tin pan inside, it too was filled with hot embers and placed at the feet to keep one’s toes warm. To keep your food warm while eating, hot plates were used. These are deep hollow plates usually made of pewter or ceramic filled with steaming hot water. To keep the body warm, people dressed in layers of thick wool clothing starting with long underwear, which stayed on the body until the weather warmed up in the spring. The following quote from the Farmer’s Almanac, 1784, gives advice on how to keep warm during winter:
“RECIPE TO KEEP ONE’S SELF WARM A WHOLE WINTER WITH ONE PIECE OF WOOD.”
“Take a piece of wood, fling it out the window into the Yard; then run downstairs as hard as you ever can; when you have got it, run up again with the same measure of speed; keep throwing and fetching up until the Exercise shall sufficiently heated you. Renew as often as the occasion shall require!”