Household Chores

Each day was full of work to be done. Some tasks were a daily necessity, while other tasks were assigned certain days. The floors were swept every day using brooms made of broom sedge or broomcorn. On occasion, the floor was also scrubbed using lye soap and a mop made out of corn shucks. Sometimes sand was used instead of soap, then swept away after the floor dried.

Cooking was another important daily task. Meals were often prepared in the fireplace, on cast iron wood-burning stoves, or over an open outdoor fire. The women would often spend Saturday baking a week’s worth of pies and cakes, but bread, biscuits and cornbread were cooked every day. Pies and cakes were stored in a “pie safe,” a large cabinet with screen doors and sides to keep bugs out and the temperature cool.

The weekly task of washing clothes was usually done on a Monday. Washing in the days of the pioneers was very different than it is today—everything was done by hand. First, the clothes were placed in an iron pot full of boiling water. Next, a washboard and lye soap was used to scrub the clothing. Families that did not own washboards used wooden sticks, called battling sticks, to beat out the dirt. The clothing was then rinsed and hung out to dry. Sunlight bleached the clothing, keeping whites their whitest.

On Tuesday, the family would iron the freshly cleaned clothes. Flat irons, solid cast iron tools, were heated on the stove or fireplace and then used to press out the wrinkles. Families usually had more than one iron so they could heat one iron while using another.

Sewing was a daily chore performed by the women of the families. Mothers began teaching their daughters to sew as early as four years old.  Most sewing was done by hand, but some women owned treadle sewing machines that were powered by foot pumps.

The task of getting water required quite a bit more work than it does today. Someone from the family would have to pump the water or pull it out from a well. On the back porch, the families would keep a bucket of drinking water with a long-handled gourd to drink out of.


Outside Chores

Food was always fresh for the Florida pioneers. Many pioneer families kept bee hives to pollinate the fruits and vegetables and to make honey for their family. Common vegetables grown in the gardens of the early Florida settlers were green beans, cow peas, tomatoes, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, collard greens, mustard greens, beets, watermelons, herbs and sugar cane. After the vegetables were picked, the women of the family would take steps to preserve the fresh foods -- canning the vegetables, drying the beans, and making jams and jellies.

A cow was kept for milk. One of the older children would have the daily task of milking the cow early in the morning and late in the evening. Horses and mules were also kept for pulling the wagon and plowing.

Each family raised its own hogs, cattle, chickens, ducks and turkeys for meat and eggs. Younger children were in charge of feeding and caring for the animals. In the cold months, the men butchered the animals, which the women would then prepare for curing and smoking.

Because many Florida families lived near the water, they often fished for mullet. The mullet would be cleaned, salted, and packed in barrels for future use. Before being prepared it had to be soaked in water for a long time to remove the salty taste.