Tuesday, July 2, 2013


I have been reading some of the correspondence of Ben Franklin.  Here he writes while before the revolution the Americans looked to England as patterns of perfections in all things.  He did observe one custom peculiar to Americans called Whitewashing.  I would imagine this is where our Spring Cleaning comes from.

When a young couple are about to enter into matrimonial state, a never-failing article in the marriage treaty is, that the lady shall have and enjoy the free and unmolested exercise of the rights of whitewashing, with all its ceremonials, privileges, and appurtenances.  A young woman would forgo the most advantageous connexion, and even disappoint the warmest wish of her heart rather than resign the invaluable right.  You would wonder what this privilege of whitewashing is:  I will endeavor to give you some idea of the ceremony, as I have seen it performed.

There is no season of the year in which the lady may not claim her privilege, if she pleases;  but the latter end of May is most generally fixed upon the purpose.  The attentive husband may judge certain prognostics when the storm is nigh at hand.  When the lady is unusually fretful, finds fault with the servants, is discontented with the children, and complains about the filthiness of everything about her, these are the signs which ought not to be neglected; yet they are not decisive as they sometimes come on and go off again without producing any farther effect. 

- He goes on to explain a little more about the plight of the poor husband and when whitewashing commences the husband runs "from the evil which he can neither prevent nor mollify".

The husband gone, the ceremony begins.  The walls are in a few minutes stripped of their furniture:  paintings, prints, and looking-glasses lie in a huddled heap about the floors; the curtains are torn from the testers, the beds crammed into the windows; chairs and tables, bedsteads and cradles, crowd the yard; and the garden fence bends beneath the weight of carpets, blankets, cloth cloaks, old coats, and ragged breeches.  Here may be seen the lumber of the kitchen, forming a dark and confused mass:  for the foreground of the picture, grid irons and frying-pans, rusty shovels and broken tongs, spits and posts, joint-stools, and the fractured remains of rush-bottomed chairs.  There a closet has disgorged its bowels, cracked tumblers, broken wineglasses, vials of forgotten physic, papers of unknown powders, seeds, and dried herbs, handfuls of old corks, tops of teapots and stoppers of departed decanters;  from the rag hole in the garret to the rat hole in the cellar, no place escapes the unrummaged.  It would seem as the day of general doom was come, and the utensils of the house were dragged forth to judgment. 

This ceremony completed and the house thoroughly evacuated, the next operation is to smear the walls and ceilings of every room and closet with brushes dipped in a solution of lime, called white wash; to pour buckets of water over every floor, and scratch all partitions and wainscots with rough brushes with soapsuds and dipped in stone cutter's sand.  The windows by no means escape the general deluge.  A servant scrambles out upon the penthouse, at the risk of her neck, and with a mug in her hand and a bucket within reach, she dashes away innumerable gallons of water against the glass panes, to the great annoyance of the passengers in the street.

-Pretty descriptive!  He does describe the caustic effects on whitewashing on the family and how the husband has to lock up his papers lest they become victim.   Also, some poor fellow got a bucket dumped on his suit and brought a case to court and he was out of luck, he got in the way of whitewashing.

I missed spring so why am I posting this now?  Like Ben said, it doesn't matter what time of year.  Maybe it's because I have looking at blogs showing Fourth of July decor, or maybe it's because I just informed my husband I am going to repaint the living room, dining room, kitchen and hall.

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