Pennsbury Manor, William Penn’s country home, is a little gem of a state park in Pennsylvania along the Delaware River about 26 miles north of Philadelphia. We took our college-age son and his girlfriend from Virginia there last week on a cloudy day with a nice breeze. The four of us took a guided tour, which started in the Visitor’s Center with a short film about William Penn.
Four other people joined us for our guided tour around the premises. The first place we came to upon leaving the visitor’s center was the boat house which shelter’s William Penn’s barge (his term). At the time, the fastest way to get to Philadelphia (about four hours) was by boat, so Penn’s barge provided his main method of transportation to and from the city.
We walked along a gravel path past the vineyard. William Penn planted French grapes in hopes of starting a wine industry. He never realized this dream because all Penn’s vines died.
Beyond the vineyard, a succession of outbuildings borders the left side of the path: the Joyner’s Shop, where carpenter’s worked, the Icehouse, which was built after Penn’s time, the Plantation Office, from which Penn’s steward directed the work of the manor, and the Smokehouse, where meat was preserved. Historians estimate that about fifty people lived and worked on the plantation. (In Penn’s day, only the plantation owner and his family were actually counted.) Some of the workers were indentured servants and some, as was the custom, were slaves. Later in his life, Penn came to believe that slavery was wrong, but he died before plans to free his slaves could be implemented.
Our guide took us into the large Bake and Brew House. This building was built after the main house because Penn feared the fire danger posed by an attached kitchen. We entered the laundry room, which has a big fireplace for heating water, tubs for washing the clothes, and a table and wooden paddles for beating the dirt out of the clothes. The clothes were draped over bushes or fences or laid on the grass to dry.
People had few sets of clothes. Clothing was so valuable that articles of clothing were rigorously counted and kept track of. Laundry was not done weekly but only once every three weeks. And, except for a morning washing of the face and hands, people did not bathe often. You can imagine the odor! However, with constant exposure to it, the people of the time probably grew so accustomed to it that they didn’t notice it.
From the laundry room, we entered the kitchen, which also has a huge fireplace and a small, very deep bake oven. Bread was baked once a week. At other times, the bake oven — warm from the kitchen fire — was used to dry vegetables for winter usage.
William Penn’s family ate from pewter dishes and drank from ceramic cups; his workers used wooden plates and leather cups sealed with tar. Everyone carried his or her own cutting knife. While spoons were available, working-class people did not use forks but ate with their hands and used bread to wipe their fingers. The upper class ate separate vegetable and meat dishes like we do today, but the workers ate pottage — a stew made of whatever meat and vegetables were left over. Although new meat and vegetables were added to the pot each day, the old were not discarded. I hope that when the stew got too raunchy, they fed it to the hogs and started a fresh batch!
The remaining two rooms in the Bake and Brew House comprised the brewery. William Penn did not realize that the water in America was not contaminated like the water in England, so he and his workers continued the custom of drinking beer instead of water. Although he did have to purchase some beer, the brewery produced much of the beer for the Manor. The beer had differing amounts of alcohol. Children drank a beer with only one percent alcohol.
A huge cistern in one brewery room held water for making beer. Ale and wine were also made at the Manor. Servants slept in a loft above the rear brewery room.
The Manor also had an orchard with apple, peach, plum, pear, and cherry trees brought from Europe as seeds or small trees. The orchard was fenced to keep out the cattle and horses. Bee hives were also imported to pollinate the flowers and for wax and honey.
A short distance from the outbuildings and the house is the stable. Behind the stable are the smaller sheepfold, horse shelter, and blacksmith’s shop. In addition to cattle and horses, Penn kept sheep, geese, chickens, guinea hens, and perhaps peacocks (a delicacy). Although fences now enclose the animals, they roamed free in Penn’s time.
Our stop at the barn was brief because the goose loudly objected to our presence. When he approached us with a belligerent glare, we decided to retreat!
More in the next post!